Être et Avoir a.k.a. To Be and To Have – No Connection to TZP

(Recommended by SI reader Boopalanj)

Preoccupied as Indian film-makers are with regurgitating trash, the documentary as an art form is virtually absent in Bollywood or any of its smaller regional siblings.

That’s odd when you know the cornucopia of material available to Indian film-makers.

Given that the blighted land is rife with corruption, rampant cruelty, exploitation and injustice of every form, the wealth of material for documentary film-makers can only be described as embarras de richesses.

But few Indian film-makers have dared to pick up the documentary gauntlet. Most likely, the reasons are financial and fear.

Money must be very hard to come by for making decent documentaries given the national fixation with the song-and-dance crap shows featuring skimpily-clad starlets.

Second, beneath the veneer of participatory democracy, India is hostile to exposes of any kind.

Whether it’s the Congress or the BJP, they are merely wolves in different colors. Look at how the BJP crushed Tehelka for daring to expose corruption in the highest echelons of India’s defense ministry.

Even in the U.S., documentaries are largely step-children of the film business. Studios and film-makers here are obsessed with big movies, where the costs are often north of $200 million. No kidding. Presumably, the payoffs are higher too (as are the risks of mega losses).

With the exception of Michael Moore and perhaps a handful of others, documentary film makers in the U.S. have mostly toiled and languished in obscurity.

Some of the interesting documentaries we’ve seen in recent years are Sicko, Super Size Me, Religulous and Fahrenheit 9/11.

Tired as we are at the endless run of crappy Bollywood and Kollywood films, we jumped at the opportunity when a SI reader boopalanj suggested we watch the 2002 French documentary Être et avoir (To Be and To Have).

The film is said to be the inspiration for the Bollywood film Taare Zameen Par. We’ll let you know if that indeed is the case after watching To be and To Have.

This documentary is available at Netflix both on DVD and Instant Play via streaming with a Roku, TiVo or Xbox. We are streaming the film (with English subtitles) via Roku.

Directed by Nicolas Philibert, the 1 hour-40-minute documentary is a look at the overcrowded school system in France denying students the prospect of a solid education.

Here’s an excerpt from the short profile on Netflix:

This documentary by Nicolas Philibert visits a one-room schoolhouse in rural Saint-Étienne-sur-Usson, where Georges Lopez teaches his 13 students, ranging in age between 3 and 10, the old-fashioned way … with effort, attention and encouragement.

We just clicked on our Roku remote and watched a couple of minutes of this film that starts off with a snow-storm in a rural setting.

Three people are trying to corral a herd of cows and slowly the camera moves to a small school-room where we espy two small turtles on the floor.

We’ll update this post after finishing the film.

At the outset, let’s clear up one misconception.

There’s little connection between this documentary and Taare Zameen Par other than that both focus on children.

That said, we must tell you bluntly that To Be and To Have is not a documentary that had us going ‘Wow’ at any point.

But it’s not a bad work either. Certainly breaks the monotony of watching commercial films.

The documentary follows students of different ages studying together in a single classroom at a primary school in rural Saint-Êtienne-sur-Usson (in Central France).

The school has just one teacher, George Lopez, whose late father originally came from Spain and settled in France.

Lopez is a patient teacher (was it because of the cameras?) as he handles children of different ages with different issues.

The young kids are natural despite the presence of the camera. Perhaps, they had gotten used to it.

What bothered us about To Be and To Have was that it did not seem to address any overarching theme and just looked at daily activities in the classroom over a period of about an year.

11 Responses to "Être et Avoir a.k.a. To Be and To Have – No Connection to TZP"

  1. kreacher   August 8, 2009 at 1:30 pm

    I think there are a lot of movies around the same theme, and they are either inspired by real-life incidents or tend to explore a teacher’s efforts to understand his students better.

    Even Hollywood has similar stories, like “The Ron Clark Story” featuring Matthew Perry, “Children of a Lesser God” featuring William Hurt and Marlee Matlin (If you did not know, Marlee Matlin is actually deaf and dumb and is an inspiration for people with similar handicaps) and the delightful adaptation of Roald Dahl’s Matilda.

    TZP is said to be based on scriptwriter Amol Gupte’s personal experiences with challenged students, and such incidents don’t necessarily have to be unique to a given teacher or social worker, so I am not sure of the “inspiration” angle. Of course, I haven’t seen this particular movie, so I may be completely off in my statement.

    SearchIndia.com Responds:

    You write: I think there are a lot of movies around the same theme, and they are either inspired by real-life incidents or tend to explore a teacher’s efforts to understand his students better.

    A few months back when we went to watch a film at one of the Ritz theatres in Philly, we saw the preview (trailer) of a French movie called Class (directed by Laurent Cantet) focusing on a teacher’s experience in an inner-city school in Paris.

    We liked the preview and wanted to watch the film but never got a chance due to other preoccupations. Now that this film has come to Netflix, we’ll watch it soon.

  2. shadowfax_arbit   August 8, 2009 at 3:25 pm

    There is another movie ‘Freedom Writers’ with similar concept. Hillary Swank has done good job in it but I just felt the movie was average…

    SearchIndia.com Responds:

    We were not aware of it. Just read about it on Wiki.

  3. shadowfax_arbit   August 8, 2009 at 3:25 pm

    ‘Burn after reading’ was good. Dark humor. Have you seen it?

    SearchIndia.com Responds:


    Plan to see it because we liked the Coen brothers’ earlier film No Country for Old Men.

    BTW, the Coen brothers are directors of Burn after Reading.

  4. Albert Camus   August 8, 2009 at 7:17 pm

    have you watched “Fargo”, SI? Best of the Coen movies that I have seen..

    SearchIndia.com Responds:


    Skimmed through the Wiki profile. May have seen some bits on TV.

    Will watch the movie. After all, it did win two Oscars.

  5. boopalanj   August 8, 2009 at 10:58 pm

    Good.!! Thanks for the effort..! At last you did 😉

    Hmm.. That clears it.. When I heard that our TZP is loosely-based on this documentary, I was worried to the most if it is yet another lift-off. It restores the hope..


    SearchIndia.com Responds:

    You write: When I heard that our TZP is loosely-based on this documentary, I was worried to the most if it is yet another lift-off

    Not to worry in this instance.

  6. boopalanj   August 9, 2009 at 6:41 am

    By the way, why don’t you prepare a list of – “50 Indian movies you must watch before kicking the bucket..”?

    [It’ll be easier for you to prepare “50 (and plenty) Indian movies you must watch to kick the bucket..” 😉 ]

    SearchIndia.com Responds:

    You write: By the way, why don’t you prepare a list of – “50 Indian movies you must watch before kicking the bucket..”?

    We’ve done one better.

    50 SOWth Indian Movies You Must Not Watch Before Kicking the Bucket

  7. boopalanj   August 9, 2009 at 11:44 am

    Thank you Lord(s), for granting me two consecutive wishes 😉

    You could have said ‘.. for kicking the bucket’ 😉

    SearchIndia.com Responds:

    We’re pondering whether we should change the headline. 😉

  8. Aswin_Kini   August 9, 2009 at 12:18 pm

    Nice post, by the way do you also review horror films. If so, I have a nice film to recommend. It is called Shutter http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shutter_(2004_film). It is a Thai film with a gripping storyline and nice screenplay.

    It was remade in Hollywood under the same name, SHUTTER 2007. Heard that the English version was crap though.

    Donno whether Netflix has Thai movies too

    SearchIndia.com Responds:

    1. You write: by the way do you also review horror films.

    Are you kidding?

    We specialize in reviewing horror films. You see, 99.99% of the Bollywood and Kollywood films are horror films. 😉

    Seriously, we haven’t seen too many horror films (would Exorcist, Omen et al fall under the horror genre).

    2. You write: Donno whether Netflix has Thai movies too

    From Telugu (including Nuvvostanante Nenoddantana, Attaku Yamudu Ammaiki Mogudu, Tata Birla Madyalo Laila, Balu: ABCDEFG, Tiger Harischandra Prasad….what horrid-sounding tittles) to Vietnamese to Marathi to Kannada to Bengali to Serbo-Croatian to Gujarati to Punjabi and Thai, Netflix covers virtually all languages.

    Just added Shutter (2004) to our Netflix queue. There’s a 2008 English version as well. We picked the original Thai movie.

  9. Aswin_Kini   August 9, 2009 at 12:48 pm

    No no, don’t watch Shutter (ENGLISH), heard it’s crap. Try watching the Thai version alone.

    Maybe I forgot to update you that it was remade in tamil under the name SIVI. The lead role was played by Thenga Srinivasan’s peran, I don’t remember his name. SIVI was quite a decent movie, unfortunately failed at the box office.
    Try watching the THAI version.

    SearchIndia.com Responds:

    1. We’ve added the Thai version directed by Banjong Pisanthanakun & Parkpoom Wongpoom and featuring Ananda Everingham and Natthaweeranuch Thongmee in the key roles.

    2. You write: Maybe I forgot to update you that it was remade in tamil under the name SIVI.

    We’re sure some Tamil producer somewhere has put out a Tamil version of Titanic, Superman, Exorcist and Casablanca as well.

  10. Aswin_Kini   August 9, 2009 at 1:21 pm

    Ha ha ha, Titanic was not remade into Tamil, thankfully, even a crappy remake would require 100s of crores 😉 After all you can’t let Jack and Rose die in a Motorboat for the sake of budget, can you? 😛
    But you are wrong in case of Superman, Exorcist, and Casablance
    A Hindi version of superman was created way back in 1987 with Puneet Issar in the lead
    Refer to this IMDB link

    Exorcist was infact remade in tamil, but I don’t remember the name.

    SearchIndia.com Responds:

    Exorcist in Tamil? Ayyo kadavule (h, God)!

  11. shadowfax_arbit   August 9, 2009 at 3:13 pm

    Yeah I remember watching Shutter(Thai) alone in the night assuming it’ll be funny like Grudge. Man it was real scary. Sound effects were awesome. I couldn’t sleep after watching it.

    There is an other movie Hostel, real scary one. It was one of the goriest movies I’ve ever seen, still good. The director was assistant of Quentin Torentino if I remember correctly.

    SearchIndia.com Responds:

    In a little while, we’re going to watch one of the Hollywood classics – Sergio Leone’s The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and later Iruvar.

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