Low-key tale of small-town life is grand

6th June 2003 at 01:00
With no plot and no drama, a film of 12 months in a rural French school still has charm galore, explains Heather Neill in the first of this week's featured events

Take a dicte!

Schoolteacher Georges Lopez has become an unexpected celebrity in France. He is the central figure in Etre et Avoir (To Be and To Have), a documentary about a rural school in the Massif Central where all the children, aged four to 10, are taught in a single room. It has scooped numerous French awards and taken millions at the box office - quite a feat for a film with no story and no major drama.

So what is the attraction of Nicolas Philibert's exceptionally charming and involving work? We are taken through a year at a school in an agricultural area given to extremes of weather, providing the film-makers with shots of farming families battling to get their cattle in from a snowstorm or summer dawn lightening peaceful cornfields.

M Lopez moves from one age group to another, from infants making their first numbers to students preparing for secondary education, from wiping paint-blotched fingers to sorting out fights. Four hundred such schools still exist in France and - even in a school of only 13 pupils - depend on unquestioning respect for the teacher.

M Lopez's methods will seem old-fashioned to British viewers - whatever the weather, indoors or out, dictation is his standby - but his unsentimental love and respect for the children are overwhelming and that is why audiences are riveted. His calm way of talking to two lads about why they cannot contain their rivalry is a model of diplomacy, a testament to the French respect for philosophy. The children, especially appealingly unpredictable Jojo, are revealed as real individuals.

There is never a dull shot in this everyday story of country school folk.

On release from June 20, cert U. TES readers can see the film for free at special screenings in London, Manchester, Brighton, Newcastle and Edinburgh. For full details, see ad on back page.

Sound the trumpet

And prepare to hear 12,000 young musicians from all over the UK playing in the National Festival of Music for Youth in wind and brass bands, full orchestras and rock groups. Jazz, Asian, African, folk - think of a musical genre and it will be represented in the three South Bank concert halls in London between July 7 and 12 along with choral masterclasses, young composers' workshops, demonstrations and a symposium, The Importance of Music, addressed by Charles Clarke and Tessa Jowell.

Every group of performers receives an adjudication and 30 will be invited to play in Music for Youth's Schools Prom at the Royal Albert Hall in November. Information: 020 8870 9624; www.mfy.org.uk.

Summer Shakespeare

A medieval town complete with ruined castle - Ludlow provides a fitting backdrop for Michael Bogdanov's productions of The Winter's Tale and The Merchant of Venice, both part of the festival ( June 20-July 13) there. Information: www.ludlowfestival.co.uk.

At the Globe in London Mark Rylance's self-regarding Richard II is a preening actor in company, a thoughtful philosopher in private. This sumptuously dressed all-male production by Tim Carroll ends, in the Elizabethan manner, with an athletic jig. Don't leave early! Tickets: 020 7401 99197850 8590.

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