Etre et Avoir
There's an underlying beauty with a touch of melancholy to Etre et Avoir that portrays a one-classroom school in rural France through one year. The seasons are characters in themselves and give a narrative arc to the story that is observational and comprised of several long takes.
To me, this is the kind of film that brings cinema to its finest. The patience in the shots, and also of the protagonist, the school teacher, as he allows his students to excel and blunder, learning from their mistakes and grow another year, allows us to tap into something fundamental. You can feel it when you watch it.
Etre et Avoir slowly creeps up on you, surprisingly engaging, pulling you into its universe as you're filled with your own memories and reflections on what's going on up on the screen. You can't help but meditate on your life, childhood, patience, kindness and of the potential and wonderful, carefree curiosity of childhood.
The approach to making a film like this takes being there, but not getting in the way. There's an observational element to the style but that's not to say that the director's voice doesn't come through. On the contrary, when we witness a film like this, we witness the director's intentionality and the meaning that he observed and pondered. We can see what he saw, for a while, edited and structured as a composition to produce a beautiful experience, but don't mistake it for truth or objectivity, because it's not. The director “writes” with his camera, intention, awareness and sensibility that is communicated to us, the audience.
The opposite approach would be to storyboard and plan the film, in order to produce certain meanings that the maker might wish to impose on what was in front of him. The problem with this strategy is that it doesn't allow for things to unfold in time as they do naturally, which is not to say that natural is always better, that depends. With time to find the unique moments however, the organic approach becomes a form of poetry where the metaphors can't help but leap out at you as you see the film. The other approach plans the metaphors initially, and then attempts to inject them into the world in front of the filmmaker. Frequently, this produces cliches and weak moments that however well-orchestrated, tend not to ring true. There are exceptions to this but even then and in fiction film, I would argue that the director must allow things to unravel at their own pace in order to find something truly beautiful and possibly transformational.
The film would have been destroyed by plot, voice-over, and the holy shrine of...., conflict! There is no traditional conflict to speak of in this film and yet, most traditional film classes, theoreticians, teachers and practitioners, will insist that without conflict, you have no story, no film. Absolute nonsense! The conflict-obsession of filmmakers is almost fully governed by market forces and fear that the audience will not fathom what's going on, without a clear-cut, story, plot and resolution. Etre et Avoir is a perfect example to the contrary.
Do yourself a favor and see Etre et Avoir!
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