At this point of the bleak midwinter, you’ve made your way through the entire Netflix catalogue (there’s only so many ‘Witty Films with a Strong Female Lead Based on a Book’ you can handle) and are looking for a different, more varied streaming experience. With that in mind, let me guide you through some lesser known movie streaming sites, taking you through what you can watch in your free 30 day trial membership and beyond. We start with Mubi, the curated art and classic film site.
One of the reasons that I chose Mubi for this project is that the idea behind it immensely appealed to me, especially the prospect of being introduced to great films that I never would have come to on my own. Although the week so far has been enjoyable, allowing me to revisit a classic and experience the emotionally raw early work of one of my favourite directors, there have been no films so far that hadn’t already been on my radar, or made by people who were.
So today is a very exciting day, a trip into untreaded waters with me and Maurice Pialat and his delightful little film L’enfance nue (Naked Childhood if you want to be a philistine about it. Although as Google sometimes thinks my website contains porn that’s the last time I’ll be using the English name)
Delightful is completely the wrong word. It was a delightful surprise to find this film, but what actually makes L’enfance nue is its completely bleak, and completely honest, view of the horrors of childhood.
It takes a fairly brave director to set up his hero by having him drop a cat to its death down a staircase, but it speaks true of a certain kind of child who loved nothing more to destroy, the kind that pulled the wings of flies. A child like the protagonist of the Carol Ann Duffy poem Education for Leisure, which I could not stop thinking about whilst watching this film:
I squash a fly against the window with my thumb.
We did that at school. Shakespeare. It was in
another language and now the fly is in another language.
I breathe out talent on the glass to write my name.
Rereading the poem for the first time since GCSE, it seems that Duffy must have had this film in mind when composing it. The film’s protagonist François (Michel Terrazon), an abandoned child bouncing from foster home to foster home and finally to reform school, has exactly the same level of savagery, arrogance and insecurity that is the root of the Duffy poem.
It is no coincidence that François Truffaut produced this film, as the film François plays like a curdled version of Antoine Doinel from The 400 Blows. Both are boys smart and bored, and you can see Doinel becoming François had his parents been that little bit more neglectful.
So where 400 Blows ends in freedom as Antoine finally gets to the sea, François ends up confined in a reform school, sending rueful letters to the foster parents whose love he was incapable of accepting.
Pialat was 43 when making this film where Truffaut was 27, and the age difference really shows in the change of attitudes. With a director making his first feature so late comes the message that even when you think everything is fine it will find a way to fuck itself up because, as a character puts it in L’enfance nue (and as Carmela famously says in The Sopranos), ‘everything ends’. Just as François find someone to love him, they die, and the abandonment begins all over again. The film succeeds because it commits to this message, but it’s hardly a positive message to leave a review on.
And you though Mike Leigh was bleak yesterday.