Children in Distress

in 50th Thessaloniki International Film Festival

by Ronald Bergan

I have a serious confession to make. I am a paedophobe. I tend to avoid children on buses, trains and planes, and can’t bear them in restaurants or cafés. I am rather more tolerant of them in films. After all,  some of my favourite films have child protagonists: Zero de Conduit, Bicycle Thieves, Ohayo, Germany Year Zero, Fanny and Alexander, The 400 Blows and Come and See.

The four films in the international competition at Thessaloniki, whose subject was children, were not, unsurprisingly, in that class, but they did supply some insights into the minds of pre-adolescents that many of us may have forgotten.

However, there are sophisticated films about children and naïve films about children. I’m afraid that Bakal Boys, a Filipino film by Ralston Jova, from which adults are almost entirely absent, falls into the latter category. The interesting subject about a group of poor youngsters who dive for metal scraps in a harbour to gain some money to help their families survive, transcended the rather primitive ‘neo-realist’ style and artificial dialogue.

Strange that the Argentinean Julia Solomonoff’s The Last Summer of La Boyita (El Ultimo verano de la boyita) had a very similar theme of transsexuality to Lucia Puenzo’s XXY (2007) from the same country. This was about a 13-year-old boy with female organs, who is beginning to grow breasts. However, the leit motif is mentruality and the coming of age of the ‘boy’ and a younger girl, which is dealt with in a sensitive manner, avoiding the melodrama of the previous film.

I would call David Lowery’s St. Nick, the sole American entry in the competition, ‘minimalist’, if that term were not so overused. By limiting the film mainly to the activities of an 11-year-old boy and his 8-year-old sister, who have run away from home for no specific reason, Lowery has probed the behavior of pre-adolescents. The fact that they seem to come from a loving home doesn’t alter the fact that kids have a need to be adult-free and create their own world.

British actress Samantha Morton’s first feature, The Unloved, is the most successful of the four movies on children. Made for television, though you wouldn’t know, it is an account of an 11-year-old girl (extraordinary Molly Windsor) who is physically abused by her divorced father and sent to a children’s home. The story is told through the child’s eyes – she is in almost every scene, often framed alone in a doorway or window. The subjective approach makes us feel her isolation and need for love, raises the film above the general run of British realist dramas.

Ronald Bergan