L'école en plein air de Pantin (1927)

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L'école en plein air de Pantin

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Title L'école en plein air de Pantin
Year of production 1927
Country of production France
Director(s) Jean Benoit-Lévy
Scientific advisor(s)
Duration 16 minutes
Format Muet - Noir et blanc - 35 mm
Original language(s) French
Production companies Edition Française Cinématographique
Archive holder(s) AFF

Main credits

L'école en plein air de Pantin

Rue Candale (ancien parc de la Seigneurie)
Film réalisé par Jean-Benoit Levy

Cinégraphie de : Ed. Floury


Medical themes


La scolarisation spécifique des enfants de faible constitution physique.

The specific schooling of children with a weak constitution.

The specific schooling of children with a weak constitution.

Main genre



The film presents and praises the various activities in which children take part at the Pantin open-air school (Pantin is a town in the administrative area of Seine Saint Denis). In this institutional film, the audience discovers the children’s daily routine, the medical and educational care provided and the moral values fostered by this particular institution.

The film presents and praises the various activities in which children take part at the Pantin open-air school (Pantin is a town in the administrative area of Seine Saint Denis). In this institutional film, the audience discovers the children’s daily routine, the medical and educational care provided and the moral values fostered by this particular institution.


The film uses hygienist themes such as the return to nature. Film director Jean-Benoît Lévy definitely belongs to this hygienist movement, and was one of its main instigators. Lévy was especially involved in the social hygiene movement inspired by Pasteur’s germ theories. The idea was to contain contagious diseases’ outbreaks and other sanitary risks by implementing public health measures. The significant number of open-air schools that opened at the time is consistent with this movement. Originally intended for pretuberculous children, these institutions opened up after World War I and started to take in physically or mentally impaired children living in poor neighborhoods. Educationalists, doctors and architects joined together in order to design specific settings that would combine education and healthcare. Open-air schools being less costly to build than preventoria and sanatoria, they often received subsidies. They were also voluntarily set up away from city centers and factories.
The local political context is worth noticing, since the mayor of Pantin, appears in a whole sequence of the film. Charles Auray was also a senator and a member of the French Section of the Workers' International (SFIO, Section Française de l’Internationale Ouvrière). It is believed that he met Jean-Benoît Lévy prior to the film shooting. Both men shared an interest in urbanism.

Structuring elements of the film

  • Reporting footage  : Yes.
  • Set footage  : No.
  • Archival footage  : No.
  • Animated sequences  : No.
  • Intertitles  : Yes.
  • Host  : No.
  • Voice-over  : No.
  • Interview  : No.
  • Music and sound effects : No.
  • Images featured in other films : No.

How does the film direct the viewer’s attention?

The viewer’s eye is guided by the intertitles introducing the film sequences which describe the children’s daily routine in the open-air school of Pantin. These intertitles emphasize the institution’s specific teaching approach and underline its rightfulness. They are much more than simple explanations, as they tend to ideologically influence the spectator. The film aims at showing the attractiveness of the place, its accessibility, its healthy and natural setting. It also praises the benefits of their hygiene policy, and the medical follow-up and activities provided for the children by the school. As the intertitle introducing the school’s vegetable garden states: Sowing seeds, watching plants grow, taking care of them, admiring flowers, harvesting potatoes and beans! What joyful moments! What fruitful observations! These words are backed by the bucolic, cheerful images that follow: the children are clean, peaceful, happy and well taken care of. The film closes on the moral values fostered by the school. The sequence order does not seem to be dictated by any particular rationale, except for the first ones featuring the children’s arrival at school.

How are health and medicine portrayed?

The film emphasizes the institution’s hygiene, rather than the medical care it provides. A medical examination is carried out prior to enrollment, and follow-up records are also shown in detail (weight and height charts, treatments, medical history, etc.). Nonetheless, the two medical inspectors specially assigned to conduct such examinations are never mentioned. Jean-Benoît Lévy promotes the hygienic measures implemented by the school : clean white outfits, physical exercise, quiet and sun cures, , tasty healthy meals, good oral and dental hygiene. For example, the film deliberately stresses that during the iodotanic syrup distribution, every child gets his/her own spoon. Furthermore, heliotherapy and closeness to nature – fundamental purposes of the school – appear throughout the numerous open-air activities featured in the film.

Broadcasting and reception

Where is the film screened?

The film is projected in the casino screening room, in the park of Pantin, on the occasion of the annual social hygiene evening.

Presentations and events associated with the film

The film is part of a series directed by Jean-Benoît Lévy during the 1920s.


The guests of the annual social hygiene event.

Local, national, or international audience


Morning: children’s arrival, lessons, gardeningEarly in the morning, children are driven to school by the city council automobile, that has been fitted out for passengers’ transportation. The same vehicle will drive them back home in the evening. A couple of staff members help the children and accompanying adults get off the bus. Assisted by young women, the children take off their clothes, leave them on the outdoor clothes racks, and slip on the light cotton outfit provided by the school. Then, they line up, putting their hands on the shoulders of the classmate standing before them, and wait for their turn to stand before the school nurse. There, each child gets a spoonful of iodotanic syrup – as is mentioned in the intertitle. The fact that the nurse uses a different spoon for each child is stressed. Then, she places the spoons in a bowl full of water. Lessons are conducted among the trees and flowers. An intertitle indicates that brief and varied lessons foster physical, intellectual and moral development. It is also mentioned that on rainy days, open marquees facing south are set up. Under the teacher’s watch, children carry out learning activities such as assembling wooden parts in a frame in order to recreate a picture. They also learn gardening, an activity that, according to the intertitles, shows them the evolution of nature and brings them the satisfaction of seeing how flowers, fruits, vegetables and plants grow.
Lunch, therapy and medical careAfter such messy activities, the film switches to a hygiene-focused sequence. Before every meal, children go to the washbasins located under a covered area. They brush their teeth, wash their hands and dry them up with towels hung on outdoor racks. The lunch sequence is an excellent opportunity to feature Pantin’s prominent personalities. While children are sitting at the table, the mayor of Pantin comes in, accompanied by his town councilors. He walks around the table, shaking the pupils’ hands reaching out for him. The lucky ones get a fatherly stroke on their heads or faces. Everyone seems delighted. An intertitle states: A sickly child needs fresh air and a bed. This quote is the founding principle of the cures regularly administered in the school. Children lie down on camp beds to have a quiet rest in the sun under the supervision of the school nurse and the fatherly care of the mayor, who, in the mean time, takes a look at each child’s health record. These are zoomed-in so the audience can note the quality of the information they contain, showing the child’s health improvement.
Afternoon: activities, afternoon tea, exercisesA series of images present the activities in which children take part throughout the day. Under the permanent supervision of staff members, they either play in sand pits or engage – individually or collectively - in physical activity. Lengthy sequences show young girls operating more or less complex looms. An intertitle indicates that these children are able to weave dresses on their own as soon from seven years of age. As the next intertitle states, afternoon tea systematically includes a milk bowl, and the couple of young girls featured in this sequence are clearly enjoying the initiative. Then, the film introduces the physical and respiratory exercises implemented by the school, the purpose of which is to reinforce the children’s antitubercular defenses: pupils perform legs and arms movements, as well as breathing exercises (inhaling-exhaling). To this end, they blow into small hunting horns while performing gymnastic movements.
ConclusionThe last two intertitles promote the institution. The school action is based on the idea that happy children will make physically strong adults. The place provides happiness and vigor to its pupils, and seeks to edify them through emotion, delight and education. The very last sequence illustrates this point: children and teachers are happily dancing together, hand in hand. Finally, the film closes on the signature of Jean-Benoît Lévy, a manufacturer of hygienist films.

Supplementary notes


References and external documents



  • Record written by : Elena Iuliani – Gauthier Feuga – Emmanuel Nuss

L’Ecole en plein-air de Pantin
Rue Candale (ancien parc de la Seigneurie)
Film réalisé par Jean Benoit-Lévy
Cinégraphie de : Ed. Floury