By Gilbert Cruz
Updated October 22, 2004 at 04:00 AM EDT

A muted, almost Zenlike meditation on teaching and childhood, To Be and to Have offers an ideal break from this year’s spate of overly politicized documentary releases (Fahrenheit 9/11, anyone?). France’s highest-grossing documentary film ever depicts a year in the life of dedicated teacher Georges Lopez and his students at a one-room rural schoolhouse in the country’s Auvergne region. Balancing a portrait of the stern but calm instructor with the seemingly insignificant moments of the school day, director Nicolas Philibert shows us that even the smallest moments in a child’s life can be fraught with drama.

EXTRAS Adorable outtakes of the young students reciting poetry, which raises the question. Would this movie be as great if the kids weren’t so cute?