The Cinema of our Childhood

in 75th Cannes Film Festival

by Magali Van Reeth

After Two Years of Pandemic what made us look to the Past

A few years back, the protagonists of young directors making their first film were young adults around 30, lost in their lives, work, relationships, and family. Was this an echo of their own lives? This year in Cannes, they grew even younger, and a surprising number of films in different selections unfolded around young children. And it is not just about young filmmakers:  the special prize called Prix du 75°, explicitly designed to reward the Dardenne brothers (without handing them a third Palm d’Or), was given to them for Tori et Lokita, two young migrants struggling against bureaucracy and drug dealers. The main protagonist of Armageddon Time by James Gray (United States of America) is an 11-year-old living in the 1980s.

It was obvious that all those directors were not just making films about their childhood, like Jung July in Next Sohee denouncing the terrible pressure put on young high school interns in Korea or Les Cinq diables by Léa Mysius, where the strange power of a very young girl allows her to travel in the past. So why so many films about childhood?

It can be fascinating for what “untamed and uncivilized” human beings are capable of, in terms of sensitivity, and thirst for spirituality, like Salomée in Alma Viva by Cristèle Alves Meira (France/Portugal) who has visions in a rural village where any independent woman can be called a witch; or the freedom of speech of the young boy in Broker by Hirokazu Kore Eda (Japan) who says out loud what the adults think but don’t speak. Children also have inner violence that can be fascinating. In Silent Twins by Polish director Agnieszka Smoczynsk, unconditional love is a prison experienced and built by two twin sisters that keep them away from the outside, with a dramatic ending.

It may also be a tribute to the lost innocence of our world. In the Grand Prix Close by Lukas Dhont (Belgium), two young boys, very close childhood friends, start growing apart after realizing how others look at them. The Fipresci Award in the parallel selections La Semaine de la critique and La Quinzaine des réalisateurs went to Love According to Dalva, a French/Belgium production by Emmanuelle Nicot, a well-crafted narration of a teenage girl’s return to everyday life after many years of incest and manipulation. Children are a paste where the outside world leaves its mark, and trying to fit in can be very challenging, as for Carlos in Un Varon de Fabian Hernandez (Colombia), who tries his best to be a tough guy in a tough environment.

As the world came to a halt during the pandemic, many of us had time to think about the meaning of our lives and reflect on its beginnings. In Petit frère by Léonor Seraille(France), we understand how the first years of life are decisive for constructing a personality. Pietro Marcello, with Scarlet/L’Envol, also unfolds the story of a young woman marked by the first moments of awakening to life and its consequences on the child’s grown-up personality.

Whatever the reason for this omnipresence of childhood in all the Festival de Cannes selections, it was very refreshing to watch those fantastic actors, boys and girls from babyhood to teenage years, so natural, so new, so full of life: in the one of the first back to normal Festival (no testing, no fear, almost no mask, long queues, packed rooms, grumpy French), the luminous presence of all those young children was an excellent gift for all audiences!

Magali Van Reeth
Edited by Justine Smith