French Connections

By Klawans, Stuart | The Nation, October 13, 2003 | Go to article overview

French Connections


Klawans, Stuart, The Nation


TO BE AND TO HAVE * DEMONLOVER

The setting is a one-room schoolhouse, which is momentarily unoccupied except for a pair of turtles. Wet snow rattling against the window reminds you of the bracing gray bluster of the day outside. Snow-laden evergreens are shrugging their branches in the wind, like sighing giants; while inside, the turtles labor with comic solemnity across the floor, beneath sun-colored furniture that will soon be bouncing with children.

The setting is the first-class cabin of an airplane, which is entirely filled with dozing passengers. Cocooned in white blankets, they lie silent in a dark and droning space that might as well not even have an outside. Video screens flash in identical rows before the sleepers, as if transmitting their collective dream: a scene of flaming chaos.

Let's hear it for French cinema, which has tossed up these exemplary moments in a pair of remarkable new releases: To Be and to Have by Nicolas Philibert and demonlover by Olivier Assayas. The first takes the form of a documentary and has the feel of an elegiac romance. The second takes the form of a feature and has the feel of a critical essay, or a delirious thriller, or maybe a critical delirium.

More to the point, the first deals with a rural community, which Philibert portrays as enduring, if not timeless. The second deals with the nowhereland of international business and the Internet, which Assayas portrays as existing in hypermodern, calamitous flux. Most of us live somewhere between these extremes--and we're lucky to have two such terrific movies to help us plot our location.

Let me introduce To Be and to Have through understatement, which is the method Philibert slyly practices. His film is a study of Georges Lopez, a veteran schoolteacher in the Auvergne region, and the dozen students he nurtured in his last year before retirement. To be more precise: Lopez nurtured thirteen students of all ages, all at the same time, teaching them every subject in the curriculum and never once raising his voice. Anybody who has handled even two kids, for as little as two hours, will look upon Lopez with awe; and Philibert's film deserves a similar respect, since it shares this man's virtue of being patiently, sympathetically tuned in.

What you learn by watching Lopez is simple enough: The man could be unfailingly attentive because he loved all of these children, from the grimiest, most woolgathering 4-year-old--the natural comedian of the picture, always playing to the camera--to the most awkward, underachieving near-adolescent, who was about to enter the regional middle school on a split decision. He loved them; he loved his work with them; and he loved having Philibert's crew in the classroom, since the filmmakers helped him savor the final months of his career. What you feel with Lopez, though, is anything but simple. It's nothing less than the deep paradox of time, which plods forward, turtlelike, for every individual and yet for the community revolves like the seasons.

Philibert begins with the circle: images of men and boys herding cattle in the snow, to the chiming of a distant bell. Before he gets to anything so newfangled as pedagogy, he wants to look at the landscape, the weather, the motions of rural labor. These are subjects to which he will periodically return throughout the film, often accompanying them with an airy, perpetual-motion musical score by Philippe Hersant, so that he evokes the turning of the year. The gesture seems reminiscent of an older documentary: Georges Rouquier's classic film on rural French life, Farrebique. But whereas Rouquier sought to reassure with poetry--his film, made in the aftermath of World War II, showed the French that their earth still flourished--Philibert wants to stimulate with clear, direct prose. Yes, spring follows winter, and one generation succeeds the next--but you still need to know how to spell properly. If you're lucky, you'll have a few years to learn how, under the calm eye of a Georges Lopez. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

French Connections
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.