Tuesday, August 24, 2010

L'Enfance Nue (Maurice Pialat, 1968) -- B+

L'Enfance Nue, Maurice Pialat's feature debut, explicitly revises Francois Truffaut's seminal childhood trauma masterpiece The 400 Blows (1959). Not only does Pialat cast an incredibly similar looking child actor (the cold eyed Michel Terrazon), he even gives him the first name of the great director. In doing so, Pialat attempts to extract all of Truffaut's sentimentality (though Truffaut's film is much more than that) by taking an objective stance on the narrative of a 10-year-old boy forsaken by his mother because of his odd, somewhat sadistic behavior and following adoption by an older couple. There's nary a musical interlude/montage to be found and not much play with camera movement or framing. This isn't exactly a New Wave picture. Needless to say, Pialat's film has nowhere the vibrancy or cinematic soul of Truffaut's, but that's more deliberate than accidental. Young Francois's behavior (torturing a cat, thieving from parents, kicking down a door, vandalism, throwing stones at passing cars) has no redeeming qualities - he's a careless, deceitful, rather emotionless child. Nor do the first parents (or subsequent foster parents) react or treat him with any more or less care or punishment than would be typical. There are no clear dividing lines or explanations - Pialat's main thesis - for Francois's behavior. Luckily, Pialat's direction and framing choices, while often static, transcend modern usages of "realism" or "verism." Though detached emotionally from the material, Pialat stays away from the fetishistic nihilism inherent to recent works like United 93 or Gomorrah. Never is he merely trying to "depict how it really is/happened." Rather, he utilizes this particular aesthetic to reflect the emptiness and confusion of abandonment.

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