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Friday, August 12, 2011

L’ENFANCE NUE / NAKED CHILDHOOD (aka ME) (1968)

L’AMOUR EXISTE, Maurice Pialat’s early ‘60s two-reel documentary on commuters & the soul-draining nabe near Paris where they live, quickly caught the attention of François Truffaut. Yet, it took almost a decade for him to godfather Pialat’s feature debut, a film about a troubled adolescent foster-child that plays like a documentary. This makes it sound a bit like Truffaut’s warm-blooded THE 400 BLOWS/’59, but Pialat’s work is much closer to the clear-eyed, pitiless rigor of a late Robert Bresson film. Cast with non-professionals, and even a few people playing themselves, Pialat is as blunt & concise as a war correspondent, using the simplest camera set-ups to get the job done on a tough story. The kid in question isn’t a misunderstood waïf waiting to blossom, but a near-psychopath waiting to blow up. Abandoned by his birth parents, on his second foster home, he’s just lucked into an unusually patient & caring couple in their 60s (the remarkable Thierrys as themselves), but the kid may already be lost for good. In his only feature film, Michel Terrazon is all exposed nerve-endings & outbursts as the boy. At times, a residue of a sweeter nature shows thru his skin like pentimento on an old canvas, but a shift of light can carry it away in a flash. It’s a relief that the film can end honestly with an abrupt question mark.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: L’AMOUR EXISTE, Pialat’s portrait of the life & lodgings of commuters (included on this Criterion DVD) is so handsomely made that you only realize in retrospect how condescending it is. Even so, the juxtaposition of dark, crumbling tenements with blank, ultra-efficient high-rise units make it play like a fascinating run-up to Jacques Tati’s modernist follies in his masterful PLAY TIME/’67.

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