It’s not surprising to learn that in underdeveloped countries, kids whose parents are able to provide them with an education often have arduous daily treks between home and school.
But it’s quite a different thing to see it, and in the documentary On the Way to School, director Pascal Plisson intercuts the stories of four groups of children living in Kenya, Morocco, Patagonia, and Bengal as they leave home in the morning laden with books, bound for their schools.
Jackson Saikong and his sister Salome travel fifteen kilometers each day across Kenyan plainlands across which giraffes, gazelles, and elephants roam. Moroccan Zahira travels twenty-two kilometers once a week to her boarding school with two of her classmates, a live hen in her bag. Eleven-year-old Carlos in Patagonia rides horseback with his sister across eighteen kilometers each day. And Samuel, a Bengalese kid with polio, is pulled in his wheelchair four kilometers to school by his two brothers.
Plisson’s crew opts against interview segments until the film’s final moments, instead unobtrusively observing the encounters, challenges, and very real dangers the children confront on the road and in the wilderness. Jackson and Salome attempt to skirt a family of elephants that wanders perilously close to their path. Samuel’s wheelchair loses a tire, and his small brothers have to find a repair shop. As Carlos and his sister descend from a harrowing mountain pass into Patagonian lowlands, they speed their horse to a gallop as cinematically heroic music pulses; the film quietly reveals these four small stories as epically heroic and timeless journeys.