France. The land of cheese, sex and cinema. By the age of 16 every single French person is so cool that no one else can be in their gang, try as less hip Europeans might. But given this totally accurate stereotype, you’d be surprised to learn that, as children, the French go through all the same trials and tribulations as everyone else. They do not, as you had almost certainly assumed, spend their prepubescent years wined up to the eyeballs, smoking cheap fags on the back of their dad’s moped.
Documentary film Être et Avoir, which is clumsily translated into English as To Be and to Have, is a testament to this, doing a quite wonderful job of crystallising the most important aspects of childhood development. It was a commercial and critical success when it was released in 2002 and makes a great Sunday afternoon watch. Unless you hate kids.
Shot over the course of the year in a tiny school in rural France, it follows a class of just 13 pupils aged between 4 and 12 as their teacher Georges Lopez attempts to imbue them with knowledge that isn’t necessarily outlined in the curriculum.
The quiet nostalgia and heart-warming narrative constructed in Être et Avoir, combined with plenty of marketing, made it something of a money spinner. However, the financial rewards which materialised after its release soured the legacy of the tale, since Lopez tried to sue the production company for a couple of million Euros. He did not win his case.
Entre les murs, or The Class, is at the opposite end of the spectrum to Être et Avoir, swapping out the pastoral setting and documentary format for a semi-fictional filmic account of a teacher’s experiences in a Parisian school.
Things are a lot less clear cut in this environment, with the educator proving to be just as fallible as the pupils, if not more so. In addition the malleable toddlers and caring, responsible pre-teens of Être et Avoir are gone. In their place are kids who have matured in a very different way, prioritising credibility amongst their peers over the appeasement of authority figures.
This is far more than just another Coach Carter-esque look at tackling the problem children that emerge from inner city environments. The film does not offer any answers and leaves the audience to its own moralising and confusion. Check both of these out one after the other for an experience sans barred holds.