Children's Films


Hollywood has often presented an image of children that international audiences could easily appreciate, with an emphasis on universal themes such as the thrill of mischief, the hilarity of misadventure, and the need for love. Films about children made outside the United States have not usually enjoyed the same exposure, since other film markets have not maintained stables of child actors and have rarely been able to produce series of films for their respective child audiences.

With the exception of some British films such as Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939) and The Thief of Bagdad (1940), international films about children before the 1950s are especially difficult to research because of the low number of extant prints. Little is known about many children's films from around the world except for their plot lines listed in catalogues. Foreign films concerning children include Kono Vank? (Whose fault?, India, 1929), Dann schon lieber Lebertran (Germany, 1931; known in Britain as I'd Rather Have Cod Liver Oil ), Mädchen in Uniform (Germany, 1931), La Maternelle (France, 1933; also known as Children of Montmartre ), Zéro de conduite ( Zero for Conduct , France, 1933), Bhakta Dhruva (India, 1934), Fétiche ( The Mascot , France, 1934), De Big van het regiment (Netherlands, 1935), Durga (India, 1939), Sciuscià ( Shoe-Shine , Italy, 1946), and Nagaya shinshiroku ( The Record of a Tenement Gentleman , Japan, 1947). Alas, many of these films have faded into obscurity, and are now difficult to find.

In the 1950s, however, with the further exchange of international films in the global market, many movies about children achieved widespread recognition. Los Olvidados ( The Forgotten Ones , Mexico, 1950) was one of the first films to explicitly confront poverty and crime among children in the Third World. Jeux interdits ( Forbidden Games , France, 1952) tells the story of a boy and a girl creatively coping with the effects of World War II. Pather Panchali (India, 1954) was the first film of a trilogy that followed a character, Apu, from his resilient childhood in an impoverished family to his eventual adjustment to fatherhood. Les quatres cents coups ( The 400 Blows , France, 1959) was as significant for its portrait of a young delinquent as it was for its visual style, which inspired the French New Wave. All of these films, despite their different countries of origin, tended to emphasize the same universal themes about children: they are born innocent yet enter a world that systematically corrupts them, so they must learn to persevere in the face of conflict and rise above the conditions around them.

Ivanovo detstvo ( Ivan's Childhood , Soviet Union, 1962) tells the story of a child spy who is exploited by the military for his ability to evade detection, and thus confronts his value as a tool for adults engaged in warfare. L'Enfant sauvage ( The Wild Child , France, 1970) is François Truffaut's (1932–1984) clinical examination of the primal states in children that he had dramatized in The 400 Blows . Cría cuervos ( Cría! , Spain, 1975) tells the story of a girl dealing with the deaths of her closest relatives. Padre Padrone ( My Father My Master , Italy, 1977) follows a young boy through his literally torturous relationship with his father to his escape from him. Wend Kuuni ( God's Gift , Burkina Faso, 1982) tells the story of an abandoned child who is adopted by a family and later confronts the repressed secrets of his tragic past. With only slight variation, international films about children continue to explore the theme of childhood innocence challenged by adult circumstances.

Even with Hollywood's development of various teen subgenres that became increasingly popular in the 1980s—sex comedies, slasher horror, science fantasy—the international depiction of children in film remained focused primarily on their playful and yet profound discovery of encroaching adult life. Alsino y el cóndor ( Alsino and the Condor , Nicaragua, 1982) presents a child who would rather engage in his youthful pleasures than the military conflict going on around him. Kazoku gêmu ( The Family Game , Japan, 1983) depicts the pressure that Japanese children face in the competitive market of prestigious schools. Skyggen af Emma ( Emma's Shadow , Denmark, 1988) features a girl who stages her own kidnapping to alert her family to their disregard for her, and then discovers she would rather live without them. Badkonake sefid ( The White Balloon , Iran, 1995) illustrates the sexism and ageism of many cultures in its story of a little girl who is pushed around by the male adults and boys around her. La Vita è bella ( Life Is Beautiful , Italy, 1997) shows the extreme efforts that a father goes through to keep his son sheltered from the terrors of the Holocaust in World War II. About a Boy (Britain, 2002) highlights the efforts of a boy to convince a man that he is worthy of being accepted as a surrogate son. Although some of these films have comic touches, they all explore serious and relevant issues for children around the world, which is in stark contrast to the majority of films about children that Hollywood has produced in the past generation.

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