A Childhood POV: Opening the Camera's Gaze

in 50th Molodist Kyiv International Film Festival

by Alberto Castellano

There is a non-evident fil rouge that runs through 7 of the 12 films in competition (three of which are directed by women), and in some ways it is perhaps a bit of a thermometer for a lot of contemporary world cinema. It is that of children and adolescents (ranging from 2 years to 15) who become the narrative engine of many stories. Whatever the context, the reference period, the genre, the narrative model, the type of story, the children-adolescents act as referees, watersheds, markers; they become subjects that link aspirations, feelings, ambitions, conflicts, the problems of the parents or adults to whom they relate and their way of being, their status, the problems relating to their age, misunderstandings, the preconceptions that others have towards them. 

Start with the Franco-Israeli film, Abu Omar (2020), where the father of a two-year-old boy who dies in an Israeli hospital (during a flare-up in the Middle East conflict leading to the official closure of border crossings) attempts to carry the body, in a woman’s sportsbag, to Palestine for burial. The journey becomes an odyssey that also includes a meeting with a young woman pregnant, with an unwanted child, who helps him. In the Maltese Luzzu (2021) the young fisherman Jesmark is faced with various problems: His luzzu, the traditional Maltese fishing boat, is starting to leak, the economy of his business is in decline, and as if that were not enough his little Aiden has growth problems and must consult expensive specialists. Wounded in his pride, he will do anything to find money, to save his luzzu and his family. 

The little protagonists of the other films begin to grow, like the little Mona of the Dutch Becoming Mona (Kom hier dat ik u kus, 2020) who is 9 years old when her mother dies in a car accident. Her father Vincent soon has a new relationship with Marie and takes the woman to her house to make her take the place of his missing wife. Mona then finds herself doing everything to make the new family work. This attitude accompanies her years later as an adult too. In the Colombian Longing Souls (El alma quiere volar, 2020), during the school holidays at her grandmother’s house, 10-year-old Camila discovers that the women in her family are cursed and she worries about the abusive relationship between her parents. In the Ukrainian-Polish co-production I Work at the Cemetery (Ya pratsiyu na tsvyntari, 2020), Sasha works as a manager of a firm that installs tombstones at the cemetery. He has a lot of customers, each of whom experiences a personal tragedy. However, Sasha is full of cynicism and irony. One day his 14-year-old daughter appears to bring her father back into her life. 

In the Serbian Kelti (2021), set in 1993 when the wars following the dissolution of socialist Yugoslavia continue in Croatia and Bosnia, a mother wakes up one day when she has to make all the preparations for her youngest daughter’s birthday party of, where the parents arrive to accompany the girl’s friends. During the party, political conflicts, misunderstandings, sentimental and sexual problems explode. The protagonist of the Portuguese The Last Bath (O Último Banho, 2020), 15 years old and seeming older than his age, revolves around the morbid relationship between the 40-year-old Josefina, who returns to the town of her childhood for her father’s funeral, and her grandson abandoned by her mother. The two deal with the change of religion, family, and love.They are very different films in styles and languages, from very different countries in terms of culture and social and political conditions. But they have in common the desire to tell stories from unusual angles, to give shape to childhood and adolescent points of view which in cinema are generally subordinated to those of the adult protagonists. This allows the filmmaker to open the camera’s gaze to certain little-explored inner aspects, to make the relationship of parents or others to the world around them more problematic, to introduce doubts and reflections into conflicts and misunderstandings between them.

Alberto Castellano
Edited by Robert Horton