I saw two excellent, touching films last week about children. One was ‘L’Enfant d’en haut’ (English title: ‘Sister’), by Swiss director Ursula Meier, who’s done a couple of other well-regarded films that I haven’t seen. It focuses on a 12-year old boy named Simon, played by the remarkable actor Kacey Mottet Klein—he’s in almost every scene—, who lives with his older sister, Louise—of undetermined age (she looks to be late teens-early 20s)—, played by Léa Seydoux, in an HLM-like high rise in the valley between Martigny and Sion. They have no parents—he tells an adult early on that they were killed a car crash—and seem to receive no public assistance. That’s how the situation is presented, in any case. She goes from boyfriend to boyfriend and is mostly unemployed. As they have no steady source of income—they literally live hand-to-mouth—, he steals skis, ski equipment, and anything of value from the ski stations up the mountains—plus food to eat—, which he resells to employees in the station, kids in his building, and on the roadside in the valley. The Swiss underclass. Never knew there was such a thing. He’s a wily, crafty little thief—there’s no indication he goes to school—, cute and innocent-looking enough that he can ingratiate himself with the rich holidaymakers, but not a bad boy, as he explains to one adult who catches him stealing that he does so to survive, which is true. He ends up pulling in more money than Louise, rendering her dependent on him financially. As she already has complicated feelings toward him—she’s fond of him but he exasperates her—, this makes it even more so. When the film is not showing Simon working the ski stations it focuses on the dynamics between him and Louise. It’s a thoroughly engrossing film, brilliantly acted, and simply very good in every respect. And there’s a major revelation, or turn in the plot, in the final part of the film that recasts the entire situation. The film won the Silver Bear Special Award at the last Berlin Film Festival. Reviews by Hollywood trade press critics were stellar (here, here, here, and here), as they were in France (here). A must see.
The other film was the Japanese ‘I Wish’ (in France: ‘Nos vœux secrets’), by Hirokazu Koreeda (first pic I’ve seen by him), which is set in Kagoshima and Fukuoka in Kyushu. The story is about two brothers, age 12 and 10, who are separated when their parents divorce, each living with one in the aforementioned cities, which are around 300 km apart. They concoct a plan to meet halfway and which involves skipping school and bringing along several of their friends. It’s an absolutely charming film, one of the best I’ve ever seen on children and their world, which, as one critic put it, “thoroughly ingratiates [but] without reaching for cuteness or sentimentality.” It also gives a bird’s-eye view of urban life in Japan, of the relationships of adults with children—and among themselves—, of family dynamics, and the inside of Japanese schools. For me, it was worth seeing for this reason alone (I have an ongoing interest in contemporary Japan but have never been there). Though the film was wonderful in just about every respect it had minor issue that one critic picked up on, which is that, at almost 2 hours 10 minutes length, it is just a little long, particularly in the middle section, which could have been shortened. But no big deal. US critics loved it, which is not surprising (e.g. here, here, here, and here), as did French (here).
In the category of touching films, I’ve seen two others in recent months that may be mentioned. One was the Chinese ‘Apart Together’, directed by Wang Quan’an (whose three previous films are on my ‘to see’ list), which is set in Shanghai early in the last decade, about an elderly man who arrives there from Taiwan to meet the woman who had been the love of his life—and vice-versa—in the late 1940s and with whom he had had a child, but had lost all contact with when he fled Shanghai for Taiwan in 1949 as a soldier with the Nationalist army. He went on to found his own family there and so did she, but now that he was a widower he wanted her back. So the movie is about what happens when he is reunited with her, meets her children—including his biological son—, and her husband, who is rather cool about the whole thing. Like I said, it’s a touching film. Reviews here, here, and here. Trailer here.
The other touching film is the Argentinian ‘Las Acacias’, about a taciturn, world-weary, middle-aged truck driver transporting lumber from Paraguay who agrees to give a ride to a young, unmarried woman with a baby who is going to Buenos Aires to visit her sister. The movie is of their ride together, much of which passes in silence. But the force of her and her baby’s presence breaches his defense mechanisms and brings out his bottled up tenderness. A small film but which is, as one critic put it, “a little masterpiece of understated resonance and humility.” Thumbs up! Critics agreed, e.g. here, here, here, and here.
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