Documentary about a rural French primary school. The kids are picked up every morning in a mini-bus to be taken to a beautiful little single classroom school on a hillside, surrounded by farmers' fields. M. Lopez is their teacher, in his penultimate year before retirement. The son of a Spanish emigrant, he teaches with real enthusiasm and skill. The only time he raises his voice during the whole film is when one of the little girls, Alize, gets lost in a barley field on a school trip and M. Lopez calls out her name to search for her.
The way he deals with the children is exemplary and inspiring. He speaks to them with calm respect and great patience, and balances brilliantly the mixed ages of his class - sensitively encouraging a mute girl, Nathalie (as well as counselling her mother); humouring the class clown, JoJo, as he colours in slowly his Christmas tree, far behind the rest of the class, or tries to wash the pen off his hands and forehead; or dealing with a fight between two of the older pupils, Julien and Olivier, both of whom are due to move on to le college (middle school) the following year.
The kids are a joy to watch: somehow less poisonously annoying on film than they would be (to me) in real life. JoJo reminds me somewhat of the little kid in Truffaut's Les Quatre cent coups who keeps spattering his pen and tearing out pages in his dictation jotter.
I am told that after this film was made and became a worldwide success, M. Lopez and the families sued for a larger cut of the profits. That should not, however, affect your enjoyment of the film. Besides, M. Lopez deserves a comfortable retirement.
Nugget: be patient with it, and you will be rewarded; as a farmer would wait upon his hay to dry and harvest, or a teacher is as he watches the slow development of his pupils.
See also In the Land of the Deaf (1992) and Every Little Thing (1997) by the same director.