Shakin’ the Blues Away
I remember I was looping Vada’s heart-breaking attempt to make the grown-ups that surround her (and they surround her) understand how you should react to death. I’m sure my eyes then drifted, while the cover version to The Eagles’ Desperado, solo sang by one the Langley Schools Music Project’s kids, came to my mind and I ended up with my foggy memories of Ponette’s struggle to understand her mother’s death. There is, clearly, no epiphany here and yet I never thought of those three girls in the same stream before. Vada’s shock echoed ours, our rage and pain (how did they dare to kill Macaulay Culkin? We expected it as much as she did and so My Girl was the saddest of summers) and every little question, thought and emotion in Ponette’s eyes was solid truth itself, but wasn’t their behaviour showing us more trouble within the adults than them? They seem to be trying to make the adults engage with the world again and I feel they are drawing our attention to how detached those adults inevitably became, showing us the difference between being alive and just not being dead.
So when Vada comes down the stairs from her room, seats on the bottom steps looking at the funeral salon, which is also part of her home, before quietly stepping into it, she crosses to adult’s realm, disrupting it with her vitality in the same way Ponette does when she walks into the cemetery, digs into the soil that covers her mother’s grave and lays on it. They are claiming their right to a shared realm, bringing blood-pumping life to adults’ space which here are, significantly, places of death. Some kids (the lucky ones in the right films) are, in several different ways, trying to build a life out of the adults’ scattered debris.
As a way to invent its own body, Mark Cousins’ A Story of Children and Film maps the manners in which children are usually depicted in cinema, thus surpassing potentially worn-out structures dependent on geographic or chronological guidelines. Tracing the connection between his own nephews’ natural behaviour and those of the other kids on screen, he elegantly lists the moods and situations they create or get caught into and carefully selects some of the most beautiful – in their layered complexity but no less in the clear and simple essentialness that is their “raison d’être” – films led by children. For the last two months I’ve been soaked in emotions quite often watching, with an utter sense of unmissable chance, most of the films that were programmed by Cousins in a season that is a natural extension, a second instalment of his work in the documentary essay A Story of Children and Film. And beyond emotion some questions have arisen: The fact that, in all these films, the kids are protagonists made me aware of how much the serious development of a character that is a child calls for the need to put him/her in the centre of the film, leaving me with the feeling that children are fated to be either the central subject of a film or a meagre cardboard figure.
Streets are full of kids all the time, but streets in films aren’t. I wouldn’t just say children are frequently embellishment pieces of a narrative or a set, instead I have to also conclude that most of the films seem to draw a very surreal world where children simply don’t exist. The other ones, where they exist on and off as apparitions, give me this uncomfortable feeling that adults believe children don’t exist when they are not being seen, at least not as interesting characters because they must be doing one of the two or three things that kids are by nature limited to do: playing or sleeping, sometimes fighting. We always imagine the most far-fetched things about adults alone, in their privacy, but when it come to kids, adults tend to imagine only a poor range, a handful of activities they are supposedly doing when not seen. But before even taking that path – their actions, their words, their thoughts when not being seen – I first need to wonder why aren’t they being seen. Why is it so rare for the camera to follow a kid in a natural way as it follows an adult? (And I’m excluding here all the tired moments of camera following kids to show us, as if we were the least perceptive people alive, some tragic thing happening to them as the result of a bad or negligent education, in those situations the equation is so heavily constructed that you feel the camera pushing the figure – not even a character I’d say – instead of following or walking with it.) I guess in a way there is some fear involved. If most of our problems as adults can be traced in our younger years, the camera following them, gazing on their private actions, trying to reach their thoughts, would probably force us to face those issues. So we have to transform them in the “other”, look at them through a dramatic glass of alterity. It is disturbing how in that process adults identify children – look at them, talk about them – as cryptic creatures (all those appalling subjective shots of kids and adults looking at each other as if they were other species seen through a magnifying glass). So it seems that, mimicking life, also in films when you finally pay attention to a kid he or she automatically turns into an issue, a problem and, also instantaneously, adults are shunned into the backdrop being secondary univocal characters and so there is never a shared universe, not in life nor on screen.
During Cinema of Childhood season I fell hopelessly in love with three films. They are, in order of screening: Beed-o baad (Willow and Wind) by Mohammad-Ali Talebi; Wrony (Crows) by Dorota Kedzierzawska and Ohikkoshi (Moving) by Shinji Somai. These movies show kids doing things alone, in some of them they are even unbearably alone. In all three of them these kids are issues, are alone and most of the adults are secondary univacus characters, but these kids are trying – and this is what makes each of these films so unique and precious – they are trying so hard not to be. Not to be issues, not to be relegated to a different universe, not to define the adults they meet or live with, by their activity or specific role. They are trying really hard to be people, to gain the right to be people in a balanced relationship with what surrounds them, to belong to the same universe as the others, to not be so alone. They are trying to cease to be the character created for them. And you see a kid fighting, walking, running, physically moving so much, just trying to shake the issue out of him/her. They are more dense and real than this sum of words and gestures we tend to become with passing years. To see them living on film reminded me of the matter I’m made of, the fire I’m made for, the beauty in the infinite significance of our gazes, our actions on land or skin, those ghosts made of words and beyond words that we should cherish forever. We do when we’re kids, we cherish them endlessly. I’ve never heard of none of these three films before and yet they are sheer perfection, it felt like finding gold. Within the next three weeks I will share my thoughts about all three of them.