The house was quiet, the work of the week was done, and Sabbath lay just ahead. After days of beautiful, hot weather, outdoors turned blustery, rain occasionally beating on the south-facing window of my office. I wandered downstairs, wondering when I might get started on a much needed work-out regimen to get a little extra poundage off. Made a cup of coffee, trundled down the stairs and threw in a DVD I’ve been meaning to watch for years.
House lights to half, cue sound and let’s watch this thing.
For those of you who know this 1996 film that won a best actor award at the Venice Film Festival for the four-year-old star, you know something of what I’m feeling just now. The film finished about a half-hour ago, and I am still all a-twitter, aglow, a-tremble…I have no idea what word to use.
First of all, Victoire Thivisol (also of Chocolat fame). Miraculous…what else is there to say? She was four-years-old at the time and nothing short of luminous. From a cognitive point of view, there is no way she is processing intellectually what she is doing as an actor (duh), and the emotional nuance needed to pull this off is so massive as to defy description. The story is simple: a small French girl loses her mother in a car accident and spends the rest of the film grieving and searching for her. She seeks the help of God through prayer, endures trials set before her by a Jewish friend who knows the path to becoming a child of God (who knew you had to leap from a fence for such distinction?), and withstands the playground nincompoop who tells her it was her fault her mother died. The father’s not much help…he tells her she’s crazy for thinking she will ever see her mother again and that “God is for the dead, not for us.” Then he leaves her with relatives while he goes off to work for what seems like weeks at a time.
I just read an interesting article in Salon on Ponette and the question it raises about a child actor’s performance, and it echoes something I actually thought about several times during the course of the film–the great respect Jacques Doillon had for his cast and the subject with which he was dealing. The air of the film is so unassuming and intimate that it is easy to forget what a huge risk Doillon is taking in walking this deeply into a child’s perspective. Laura Miller, writer of the Salon article, gives us some interesting insight into the making of the film.
I’d love to spoil it for you, but I won’t. Let’s just say that “unless you have the faith of a child” kept resonating through my head. Oh, what a gift this film was tonight. As I put the dishes away in the blustery quiet afterwards, I just kept laughing, out loud, and even shouted a couple of “Thank You’s!”
…who knows, maybe I’ll even go learn to be happy…