Nicolas Philibert's fly-on-the-wall documentary is a quietly affecting study of a single-class French school, situated in a remote Auvergne farming community. The dozen-or-so pupils, aged four to 10, are all taught by the same dedicated, caring teacher, George Lopez, himself now approaching retirement.
Lopez teaches the basics of reading, writing and maths, but also takes the time to prepare his charges for the adult world. Consequently, they learn how to get along peacefully and how to express their fears and worries. Disputes are settled through reasoned discussion, not through physical violence.
A celebration of Lopez's dedication and the children's innocence, Philibert's film is made up of long, composed takes, the camera studiously observing the kids at work and play. Such patience pays dividends, drawing an emotional investment from viewers as we get to know not just the kids, but their families as well. The director also exhibits a fine eye for landscape and the changing of seasons, giving his documentary a rich sense of place and time.