Viewing like an updated version Francois Truffaut's Small Change (L'Argent de pouche, 1976), Jacques Doillon's Petits Freres (1999) shows the lives of street children in the French suburban projects where poverty reigns over the ethnic population. The title though literally translated "little boys" in the popular vernacular means "kids" inclusive of girls.
Talia, a thirteen year old girl from a white neighborhood, has a dangerous stepfather, so she takes to the streets & tries to track down a friend in the projects so she can stay at his apartment. She ends up in a crowded apartment with a lot of French African kids & teens, where she is relatively safe, but awfully worried about her younger sister who is her stepfather's real daughter, though Talia is sure he cannot be trusted even with his own blood child.
She takes her dog Kim with her when she runs away. Kim's a friendly pitbull that is promptly stolen. So Talia gets a handgun for protection & spends the next week trying to find her beloved Kim, assisted by Ilies, a moslem boy who is courting her & protecting her & would seem a pretty nice friend, except that he conspired with other boys to steal Kim in the first place.
Belatedly touched by guilt, Ilies tries to get the pitbull back from the older kids who are using the dog in dog fights. But they have no intention of letting go of the dog until it has been too badly injured to put in more fights.
No adult point of view ever intrudes upon the film. There's no plot to speak of, just a couple of excuses on which hinge a number of adventures & experiences. Because we never break out of the kids' point of view, we are able to see the joy of their impoverished, often dangerous lives, because children everywhere manage to create their own world & community no matter the conditions.
The kid actors do a wonderfully credible job, only occasionally grinning into the camera. They make the script believable despite its thinness. Doillon's tendency to romanticize hides more truth than it reveals & is not entirely winning, but the film does reward patience.
Since Doillon's film so begs to be compared to Truffaut, Petits Freres is fun to imagine on a doublebill with Small Change, although Doillon's excellence is less apparent when stacked beside the best.
Small Change focuses mainly on a group of small town children. Truffaut shows the de facto heroism of children rich or poor, where adults are mainly disruptive & emotionally harmful.
A little girl dressed for a special event wants to take her stuffed-animal purse instead of the purse that matches her outfit. So her father loses his temper & destroys her favorite possession. An infant crawls to a balcony & falls to certain death, but is unhurt because children somehow manage to survive in this unsurvivable world.
A kid who thinks his own life is tough befriends Julien & learns how much worse life can be. A preadolescent boy gets his first major crush.
There is no plot & only a few story threads, but it's an amazing film experience that balances childhood's parade of little horrors with childhood's joys & falls finally to the side of joy.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl