During the 60s, 70s and 80s the European film industry managed to produce some films about children and childhood of incomparable depth and beauty.
I’m not sure why. Maybe this was a period where our ideas about childhood were changing or subject to competing narratives, a period when ‘childhood’ mattered. Or maybe it was a period when the public was more receptive to subtle, unspectacular cinema than it is nowadays.
In these films there is none of the condescension towards children that is all too common today: these children do not enact a label (victim, cute, knowing, precocious, innocent, funny) as children so often do in contemporary films, they are not defined purely in terms of their relationships with adults.
These films simply take children seriously. The children in these films are complex enough to be mysterious, morally ambiguous; they leave us puzzled and intrigued. Their characters are, like a good poem, open-ended.
Dreamchild (1985) – Video Trailer
“Dennis Potter’s haunting, melancholy fictional take on the real-life Alice of Charles L. Dodgson’s (aka Lewis Carroll’s) masterpieces; “Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland” and “Through The Looking-Glass”.
An elderly Alice (Coral Browne) travels to New York to be a special guest in the celebration of the 100th anniversary of Dodgson’s birth. Flustered by press and public attention, she begins to call up hidden memories from that period and reflect on her childhood and her friendship with Dodgson (Ian Holm). She has trouble reconciling these memories, and the complex feelings she has toward them, within the bittersweet scope of her memory of her life through time; a life that has lead her to her present state of reflection in her autumnal years. Phantoms of ambivalence and contradiction and nostalgia begin to spill over into her reality and into the reality of the film, as manifestations of characters from Carroll’s text (brought to boldly realized life by Jim Henson and his Creature Shop) are conjured up, as the film sifts through her memories and staged scenes from the books.”
I hesitated before including this trailer for Gavin Millar’s ‘Dreamchild’.
Not because Dreamchild is anything other than a wonderful film – in my opinion it is both a masterpiece and the most sympathetic and true depiction of paedophilia on film – but because this trailer does this film so little credit, the voice-over alone has all the delicacy of a chain-saw drowning-out a Chopin Nocturne.
As one ‘LazlosPlane’ comments “Brilliant film. Trivialized by this trailer. Sad.”
I had other Youtube clips ready that would have much better conveyed why this is such a special film – but, on coming to write this blog, I found that Youtube had deleted them all.
I’m not sure why. These clips portrayed nothing at all illegal, though they do portray Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (AKA Lewis Carroll – played by Ian Holm) deeply in love with his muse Alice Liddell (wonderfully played by Amelia Shankley) who responds ambiguously and flirtatiously. I can’t imagine Youtube would have felt justified in deleting these clips on legal or moral grounds.
This is a film that gets almost everything right, not least Jim Henson’s puppets and Stanley Myers’s subtle and beautiful score. The only niggle is Ian Holm’s age – Charles Lutwidge Dodgson would have been 30 when he told Alice the story that was to become ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’. Ian Holm was 54 when he acted this role – however I can forgive this as his performance is convincing and deeply moving, and maybe having him at an older age was useful in emphasising how inaccessible the young Alice is to him.
I hope eventually to write a full blog-essay about this film, which I first saw, soon after its release, at a cinema on the far side of the city where I lived. Afterwards, during a long journey home on public transport, I was unable to restrain the paroxysms of sobbing that overcame me as I obsessively replayed the final scene in my head. I wonder what my fellow passengers must have thought.
Y.Simon : Diabolo Menthe – 1977
Diablo Menthe is an autobiographical film written and directed Diane Kurys. Eléonore Klarwein plays Anne Weber – a jewish girl on the threshold of adolescence coping with the difficulties of school and life.
The film came out a few years before, at the age of sixteen, I first was made aware of my attraction for little girls, when an eleven year from my school’s first year turned round, smiled at me and changed my world. I saw this film soon after and fell in love with Anne.
This film, and Yves Simon’s haunting music, project me back to when I was first discovering this wonderful love: an exhilarating and joyful time when I could still believe that my life might be full of girls like ‘Petite Anne’.
El Espiritu de la Colmena
‘El Espiritu de la Colmena’ (The Spirit of the Beehive, directed by Victor Erice and released in 1973) is a subtle and oblique meditation on Franco’s Spain, illumined by the intriguing and hypnotic presence of seven year-old Ana Torrent, in her acting debut.
The character she plays is also called ‘Ana’. This made it easier for the director to capture the little actresses’s unfeigned responses to the situations he placed her in, effectively making the actual actress a protagonist in the action, rather than the fictional character she was playing.
The early scenes in this clip depict a screening of James Whale’s ‘Frankenstein’ in Ana’s village. Erice actually gave a screening of the film and recorded the reactions of the children and adults as they watched.
Making this film was a harrowing experience for Ana Torrent. As Erice makes clear in the interview at the start of this clip, Ana believed Frankenstein was real. The scene where she meets the monster by a lake required many takes since Ana, terrified, kept running away from the made-up actor playing the monster. Eventually she managed to conquer her fear, but we can nevertheless see her trembling with fear at 8:10.
Incidentally, the appearance of James Whale’s monster was inspired by an etching from the Spanish artist, Francisco Goya’s, satirical series – ‘Caprichos’.
I wonder if Victor Erice also drew inspiration from this series? Is the way Ana looks at the monster at 7:23 reminiscent of the mother in ‘que viene el Coco’ (‘here comes the Bogeyman’) – an expression of both fear and wonder at the appearance in real life of a product of one’s invention?
Cria Cuervos – Porque te vas
“Scene in “Cria Cuervos” where Jeanette’s “Porque Te Vas” sounds.”
“Cria Cuervos” was Ana Torrent’s second film.
Despite the traumas she suffered in the making of ‘El Espiritu de la Colmena’ she was keen to act again and, at the age of nine, and directed by Carlos Saura, played another girl called ‘Ana’ (or is she maybe the same girl as in ‘El Espiritu…’?).
Ana is a little girl burdened with sorrow. She is recovering from the death of her tender and affectionate mother and is troubled by the world around her – the infidelities of her father, a hated aunt, her grandmother who is wheelchair-bound, unable to speak and wishes to die.
The film’s title comes from the Spanish proverb ‘Cría cuervos y te sacarán los ojos’ which translates as ‘Raise ravens, and they’ll take out your eyes’ – which, despite little Ana trying to poison several of the adults in her family and brandishing a loaded gun at her aunt, feels a bit unfair. This is a complex film which obliquely criticises Franco’s dictatorship, and I think the real ‘Cuervos’ in this film aren’t the children but the adults corrupted by their complicity in the regime.
The song we hear in this clip, “Porque te vas” by Jeanette, recurs as a motif.
It’s an intriguing piece of music: although it’s in a minor key, much about it – its heavy rhythmn, its quirky upbeat fills, its comic instrumentation with a squelchy organ in the fore-ground – suggests it should be a funny and happy song – yet it somehow communicates a great melancholy which its poignant lyrics reinforce – has any language got a better word for ‘you will forget’ than Spanish? Olividaras?
A High Wind in Jamaica (1965), directed by Alexander Mackendrick
This is a dramatisation of a novel by Richard Hughes (who was very probably a non-exclusive paedophile).
It explores the events which follow the accidental capture of a group of English children by pirates: the children are revealed as considerably more amoral than the pirates. The presence of the children on his ship affects the pirate leader Chavez (played by Anthony Quinn) – he becomes more caring, protective towards the children, maybe even falling in love with Emily (played by Deborah Baxter), who would have been eleven or twelve at the time of filming.
As so often in the world of films – he who dares love a child is doomed.
CYBÈLE OU LES DIMANCHES DE VILLE D’AVRAY – Extrait (HD – version restaurée)
“Un film de Serge Bourguignon – Avec Hardy Kruger, Patrica Gozzi”
‘Cybèle ou Les dimanches de Ville d’Avray’ tells the tragic story of Françoise/Cybèle (she keeps her real name secret for much of the film. Patricia Gozzi was 11 or 12 year-old when she made this film) who is befriended by Pierre (played by Hardy Krüger), an innocent but emotionally disturbed veteran of the French war in Indochina.
Their friendship borders on love, and brings stability and happiness to both of them. But the World, of course, can not tolerate such a relationship and, in different ways, sacrifices both their lives to re-establish order.
Ville-d’Avrey is a suburb of Paris not far from Versailles. It is not without reason that it forms part of the film’s title – the beautiful village, park and lake are like protagonists in the drama – offering Pierre and Cybèle a dream world that they can’t quite keep hold of. The pond where Pierre and Cybèle are so happy together is known as ‘l’Etang de Corot’ since the painter lived at Ville-d’Avrey and the pond was his preferred motif.
A quarter century or so after the death of Corot, this same pond was to fascinate the great photographer of neglected Paris, Eugène Atget. Indeed I suspect that not only the decision to use black and white, but also the choice of the film stock, the decision to film the outdoor scenes in soft diffuse light and most of all, the way the shots are composed were all heavily influenced by Atget’s photography.
Selezioni Zecchino d’Oro 2014 – Lucca 25 maggio
And something completely different to finish off.
I’ve expressed my admiration for Marco Lui once before in an earlier blog, and have no scruple in doing so again: his interviews with children are charming and funny, and he brings out the children’s personalities in a way that I have not seen recorded elsewhere.
Marco Lui is a mime artist who presents the annual Italian children’s song competition ‘lo Zecchino d’Oro’ and interviews the participants before their performances. He establishes a real rapport with the children, makes them relax and laugh, and subtly flirts with the little girls. I think his success comes partly from his good looks, but mainly from the way his humour is teasing whilst, paradoxically, showing great respect for the children. He invites them into complicity and together they become a kind of ‘double act’.
I must also confess that I find something almost erotic in seeing a little girl and a man sat close together like this, interacting joyfully, enjoying each other’s company and losing themselves in the quasi-orgasm of laughter. For a reluctant celibate making a loved-child laugh like this is probably as good as it can get.