films / Top 10 Lists / VIFF 2017

3 Films About Childhood for Adults

By Paloma Pacheco

We’ve all experienced the wondrous sense of freedom and adventure that comes with childhood: feeling like the days are endless and filled with enormous possibilities, subject to all the places our imaginations will take us. In fact, cinema often seems to offer a similar sense of wonder—served up in a different form, perhaps, for all of us who are still big kids at heart. This year, VIFF is playing host to several films that deal with the theme of childhood, in all its magic, creativity and innocence—and also its sometimes more sombre moments of loneliness, confusion and sadness. Check out our three picks for VIFF 2017 films that cater to the child that’s still in all of us:

1. SUMMER 1993 directed by Carla SimonSummer1993

Catalan writer-director Carla Simon’s debut feature film carries particular poignancy—though it is a fictionalized account, the moving story of a young girl who is sent to live with her aunt and uncle after her parents’ death is based on the director’s own loss.  Little Frida (played by arresting novice Laia Artigas) is thrown into unfamiliar territory and an entirely new life when her mother dies from AIDS, leaving her parentless and left to assimilate into her new family composed of her uncle Esteve, his wife Marga and their own daughter, toddler Anna (a cherubic Paula Robles). Simon elicits incredibly restrained and authentic performances from all her actors, and the scenes between Frida, as she subtly begins to act out in her new surroundings, and Anna, both elated and confused at having a new sister thrust upon her, are truly incandescent. Artigas manages to invoke such a nuanced range of emotions—from barely registered (even to herself) loneliness, grief, anger and resentment—that the autobiographical nature of the film’s story and the director’s attachment to its telling is on full, heart-wrenching display. But don’t be fooled: Summer 1993 is the most delicate and subtle of films. While it may tell a rather well-worn tale of childhood confusion and loneliness, the telling is what counts.

2. THE FLORIDA PROJECT directed by Sean BakerFloridaProjectThe.jpg

American filmmaker Sean Baker’s debut Tangerine was a runaway indie hit when it premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2015. The film, shot entirely on three iPhone 5s’, followed a transgender sex worker, Sin Dee, as she took to the streets of downtown L.A. on Christmas Eve to seek vengeance for a wronged love. Baker has been celebrated for his ability to sensitively, warmly and originally portray the lives of those on the margins, doing so with particular poignancy and humour. The Florida Project is his latest venture: the story of a colourful (literally—it is painted a punchy purple) budget motel on the outskirts of Disney World in Florida, home to a cast of low-income tenants and a stern yet compassionate landlord, played by Willem Dafoe in a surprisingly out-of-character role. The real star of this story is six-year-old Moonee (played by newcomer Brooklynn Prince, in a performance that has been widely praised); living in the motel with her mother Halley, a 22-year-old tattoo-covered firecracker. Moonee spends her days running around the surrounding premises of the motel with her pals getting up to all kinds of antics and revelling in the special magic of summer when you’re six and the world is your oyster. Though Baker’s film may depict the very real challenges of poverty and class in America, the wonders and innocence of childhood appear to be at the core of this bright humanist tale. As Variety has noted, “…the movie has a sense of adventure. It’s rooted in that transcendent moment of childhood where almost anything you encounter—a field of weeds, an abandoned house—is tinged with wonder.”

3. WONDERSTRUCK Directed by Todd HaynesWonderstruck

VIFF’s Closing Gala film this year is Todd Hayne’s Wonderstruck, a cross-decade time-travelling tale of two deaf twelve-year-olds struggling to come to terms with parallel losses while also attempting to find their place in a world not designed for them. Haynes is a master of emotional nuance and intellectually high-minded cinema, and many of his films—though focused on more adult tales—have explored the themes of loneliness and yearning to great effect. While a child-friendly story may not be the most obvious choice for him after films like Far From Heaven and Carol, Wonderstruck has been widely praised after its showings at Cannes and TIFF for its luminous and intelligent depiction of childhood without talking down to a potentially younger audience (adults can safely bring their children to VIFF’s two screenings!). With ambitious black-and-white and colour cinematography (one for each of the film’s separate eras of 1927 and 1977, respectively) and a luscious musical score, Wonderstruck seems destined to be a crowd favourite, and the perfect close to VIFF 2017. Vox’s review summarizes the film’s intent, “Though Wonderstruck has an embedded lesson — about how having the courage to both seek answers and connect with others is what makes us grow up — the film doesn’t state that lesson outright. Instead, it trusts its audience, adult and child alike, to feel its theme, to knit themselves into its multigenerational fabric. And it does so with the kind of artistic integrity that’s rare in films aimed at kids, who too often get the cinematic short stick, talked down to by the grown-ups who think they know what kids want in a movie. Haynes, instead, simply decided to see the world like one.”

Get more information and tickets to any of these films at Viff.org

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