The Red Vic is an SF treasure, where today I saw Francoise Truffaut's classic 1976 film Small Change, about the lives of a group of children in the quaint French village of Thiers. Thiers is a very cozy village where the main attraction is for everyone to gather every week at the movie house, and where the kids wander safely alone. Small Change was among the first movies the Red Vic showed when it opened 30 years ago, and as part of the 30th anniversary celebration they showed a new print of the film.
As Vincent Canby noted upon the film's premiere in 1976, and as Mark Pfeiffer echoed in 2005, the great strength of this film is that it shows children as children and not as miniature adults. The scenes just tumble out. For example: there's a terrifying sequence in which a very young boy crawls out a window ledge in search of the cat he's let loose, only to fall (safely) many stories to the ground. (Thank goodness he falls on grass and not cement.) There are many humorous courtship moments, such as the first kiss between two teenagers at summer camp. And there's sadness, particularly around the plight of a troubled child who is physically abused by his family.
Through it all there is childhood--the need to tell dirty jokes even if you don't fully understand them; buying roses to give to an adult woman, without thinking that she'll figure they came from your father; playfulness just for the sake of it. The film doesn't really have a plot, opting for gentle gazing on the exploits at hand. In some ways the 2008 French film The Class evokes Small Change, but The Class focuses much more on the concerns of the teachers (including a small but hilarious scene in which a teacher is lobbying for a new coffeemaker in the staff lounge.) In Small Change the kids rule.
The child-friendly focus is refreshing, but occasionally schmaltzy. Towards the end of the film a teacher gives a speech in which he argues for children to have the right to vote--the logic is that this will force politicians to pay attention to children's issues. Really? Yes, the kids are smart and know more than adults think or want to admit. But as the movie shows, many adults love children even if they find them exasperating. Adults need to take care of kids, and kids don't need to go to the ballot box just yet. We should let them be kids for a while, so that we can have more films like Small Change.