On the Way to School

Though aimed at children, this 2013 French documentary is the sort of direct, expressive, and compassionate filmmaking that can be appreciated by anyone. Director Pascal Plisson interweaves four stories of children in remote areas—central Kenya; Patagonia, Argentina; the High Atlas Mountains of Morocco; and the Bay of Bengal—who face tremendous physical difficulties getting to school every day. Such narrative-filmmaking elements as choreographed movement, written dialogue, and suspense sequences make the children seem less like sociological case studies than like the relatable characters one encounters in fiction. Plisson establishes such incredible empathy for his subjects that, despite the vivid impressions of their archaic lifestyles, they never feel exotic. This is a movie André Bazin would have loved, down to its absorbing deep-focus cinematography. In subtitled Arabic, broken English, Spanish, Swahili, and Tamil.