19 May 2010
It's amazing to take my childhood experiences and compare them to American films about children vs. European films about children. If you didn't know better, you'd think American kids were wholesome cuties incapable of nuanced emotion, confusion, fear, lust, or envy. But I was an American kid, and I know much, much better. Watching something like I'm Not Scared and even moreso this film, I'm embarrassed by how little we address or even acknowledge the childhood experience in American art and media. I've tiraded before about our puritanical denial that a sexual impulse might enter the head of anyone less than seventeen and eight-eights years of age, but this is so much deeper. Just simple things: envy, doubt, fear, experimental cruelty, deceit, self-denial, exploration of social roles, resilience, determination, actual innocence, bemusement. Is there an unspoken rule that children can't experience life in a film?
Anyway, I seem to have gone off topic. Small Change is an interesting story, because it's got almost no structure at all. It repeats itself a little bit, allowing the same kind of situation to unfold to one character after another with different variables and different results. Events lead characters around corners that go unexplored. Everybody develops and adapts but not down a singular, controlled path. There are no "arcs," in a simple sense. The world exists just as abundantly beyond the edges of the frame as it does where the camera's pointed. And the film isn't afraid to scare you while being cute, to creep you out while being charming.
I am about to write children doing children things, and before seeing this I wasn't really cognizant of how young and naive a 14-year-old (for example) really is. It's so easy to write the words STACY (14)... and then to imagine someone roughly seventeen or eighteen, and then to write a character who's essentially twenty-one or twenty-two. Fourteen is a kid! Eight is a little kid! This both terrifies and thrills me as I move forward with development. It's certainly going to make casting a bitch, but I think it's going to be worth it if I can pull it off.
Anyway, I'm really glad I got a DVD copy of this. I'm going to have to revisit it. Hollywood and America in general refuses to acknowledge anything genuine about kids and their lives, so I thank my lucky stars we're not the only voice out there. Truffaut seems to know a thing or two about childhood, and this film is a beautiful, amazing, nuanced tapestry devoted to that very subject.
Seen at the Hollywood Theater.