Archive for June 25th, 2015

pialat 1

by Ed Howard

Maurice Pialat’s debut feature was L’enfance nue, a quiet, unassuming film about childhood confusion and isolation, following the lead of his predecessors in the French film tradition, Zero For Conduct and The 400 Blows. Like those Jean Vigo and François Truffaut films, Pialat’s first film concerns itself with a troubled youth, a delinquent drifting aimlessly through an unstable childhood where everything seems transitory and he has nothing to hold onto. François (Michel Terrazon) has been abandoned by his birth parents, who have thrust him into the foster care system without fully relinquishing their parental rights. The result is that everything is always “temporary” for François, he can never settle down into a permanent home with a permanent family or living situation. He’s perpetually wary, always aware that things could change at any moment, that he could easily be shuffled around to another home, another family, or else to an institution of some kind. In the film’s first half hour, he’s living with a family who are taking care of him, but who are reaching the end of their patience with his bad behavior. They profess to love him and treat him as well as their adopted daughter Josette (Pierette Deplangue), but this is a hollow assurance coming soon after the revelation of the disparities in the two children’s bedrooms. Josette has a lovely, beautifully decorated room of her own — “everything she dreams, she can see when she’s awake,” her mother poetically coos — while François’ bed is shoved awkwardly into a corner of a landing in the hallway, the only spare space for him in the cramped little home.

It’s obvious that François feels destabilized by his situation, by the impermanence of his life, by how apparent it is that no one intends to keep him forever. Indeed, once this family grows tired of dealing with his rambunctious behavior, his tendency to steal and be difficult, they simply decide to send him away. This is a child’s nightmare, the fear of being discarded like this, but for François it is a prosaic reality, a fact of his transitory, migratory existence. He has a surprisingly tender goodbye with this temporary family — kissing his sort-of sister on the cheek, giving his sort-of mother a present — and then he seems to forget about them entirely when he’s sent to live with another family. This elderly couple (Marie-Louise Thierry and René Thierry) treats the boy with more kindness and patience than he is used to, and he seems to feel real affection for them, and for the old woman’s even older mother (Marie Marc), who François calls Granny. This family still can’t stabilize François, not really, and he continues his troubled ways, hanging out with rough kids who smoke, steal, fight, and in one scene, watch in awe as an older boy carves his initials into his own arm. But François is moved at least a little by their care: in a pivotal scene, he pulls out Granny’s wallet while the old woman is sleeping, leafing through the life savings contained within, but surprisingly does not steal the money, instead simply placing it back. It’s perhaps the most genuine act of goodness that François can do. (more…)

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