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Review: A childhood (2015)

Director: | 100 minutes | | Actors: , , , , Patrick d’Assumçao, , , , , , Philippe Claudel, , ,

Poor little Jimmy (13) is having a hard time. His lax addicted mother has little money, he hardly hates his angry, criminal stepfather and he hardly has any friends. He does have his younger brother Kevin, who cares for him incessantly. He has to, because his mother and stepfather simply don’t care about him.

Writer and director Philippe Claudel paints a moving picture of the childlike quest for security in his third ‘Une enfance’. Even more than for food, a hug or friends, Jimmy longs for a normal home situation. To a life in which his stepfather does not invite his friends every weekend and in the living room party, drinks and uses drugs until well after midnight. He wants his mother to be ready for breakfast in the morning and to go shopping. Now he does all of this alone.

Claudel cleverly portrays the contrast between Jimmy’s neglected and caring side. He has few talents, sometimes steals something and regularly argues with his little brother. All conditions for getting on the wrong path are there. But above all, he is a sweet boy who tries to survive and who yearns for maternal love.

The raw way of filming is reminiscent of the Walloon successful brothers D’Ardenne, who won the Golden Palm several times with that style. But unlike the Belgians, the image with Claudel is not so hopeless. Jimmy seems to have angels on his shoulders to watch over him and keep things from getting out of hand. His neighbor sees everything without having any contact with him. He’s just there. He looks and beholds. His teacher also has plenty of reasons to suspend Jimmy, but he remains friendly and understanding.

Sometimes Claudel takes the viewer along in a kind of hot air balloon of relaxation to escape all the home hassle. Then Jimmy, for example, goes to a birthday of a classmate he is in love with. Or is he with his grandmother, the only member who does show affection and with whom he would much rather live. Ray LaMontagne’s is well chosen for support, because his raw voice has a subdued cheerfulness in it.

Alexi Mathieu deserves a big compliment with his portrayal of Jimmy, because there are few child actors who can convincingly play such a difficult character. Most endearing are the scenes where Jimmy roams the streets with Kevin. Then he earns some money by scamming people and spends it on ice creams and a balloon.

Moments like this show that he is still a child, because you sometimes risk forgetting that. His difficult world forces him to be an adult already.

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