Daniel Lefebvre (Torreton) is a teacher and administrator at a kindergarten school in a Northern French town. Many of the families in the community are struggling with unemployment after the closing of the local coal mines. Daniel and his team of teachers fight with the town’s mayor to secure more money for their school. They deal with the bureaucracy of governmental programs while trying to provide a safe, educational environment for the children. Daniel must also cope with depressed and abusive parents as he tries to maintain a healthy relationship with his fiancée (Pitarresi) and her young son.
Tavernier’s poignant social commentary was inspired by the notebooks of his son-in-law, a provincial schoolteacher, which makes the film feel authentic and also lends it a highly personal quality. As Daniel, Torreton gives a performance of depth and compassion. Tavernier films this docu-style drama in loose, wide shots, letting his camera capture the spontaneity of the school children and the unflagging energy of their teacher, who is rarely seen sitting. What could have been a preachy message movie instead becomes a touching tribute to pedagogic commitment, thanks to Tavernier’s warm, heartfelt approach. This profoundly human film merits a wider audience, well beyond the borders of France.