Directed by Maurice Pialat
Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1 anamorphic
Running Time: 83 minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital 1.0 French
MSRP: $ 29.95
Release Date: August 17, 2010
Review Date: August 3, 2010
An early style docudrama focusing on the foster care system in France as seen through the experiences of one child, Maurice Pialat’s L’enfance Nue (translated Naked Childhood) captures well the conflicts and heartaches on all sides of the question. What it fails to do is examine its central subject in any kind of depth: we witness bad behavior, but there’s no explanation. Pialat’s unsentimentalized approach to his story may have struck a chord with critics during the turbulent 1960s upon its initial release, but now the film seems unfinished, incomplete, and somewhat unsatisfying.
Abandoned by his mother, Francois Fournier (Michel Terrazon) has a decided mean streak in him. At age ten, his latest pair of foster parents (Linda Gutemberg, Raoul Billerey) throw their hands up and turn the boy back over to the social services system. Francois is next taken in by the more elderly, kindly Thierrys (Marie-Louis Thierry, René Thierry) who do all they can to cope with Francois’ vicious streak. Francois takes a special interest in Mrs. Thierry’s elderly mother (Marie Mac) who lives with the family, and he’s kinder and more ingratiating with her than with anyone else. But he can’t seem to stay out of trouble, and as his pranks begin escalating in seriousness, the Thierrys have to decide if they can continue trying to reach the devilish youngster.
No, writer-director Maurice Pialat does not look at the situation of his main character with rose colored glasses. We see some really spiteful and cruel behavior on Francois’ part: killing a cat rather nastily, stealing and destroying property, fighting, even throwing a knife at his foster brother Raoul (Henri Puff) and missing him by inches. We’re never allowed inside Francois’ head to see why he’s so rebellious, especially in light of the noticeably kind and considerate attention he receives from both sets of foster parents with whom he lives during the movie, and we don’t understand why he makes an exception to his cruelty with Nana, the foster grandmother. That lack of insight into his behavior weakens any audience identification or sympathy for the boy and rather transfers it to the foster parents who here are not in the child rearing business for money (as is so often reported in the foster care system of our country) but out of genuine concern and caring for the abandoned children. Pialet films most of the movie rather routinely though he does get some momentum going in some neat tracking shots following Francois running away from trouble he’s gotten into on a couple of occasions.
Pialet also used non-actors for his leading parts, and despite some stiffness and self consciousness with the camera nearby, they acquit themselves admirably. Marie-Louise Thierry is especially touching as her motherly affection for the troubled lad comes to the fore often as she desperately tries to reach him. Henri Puff is also natural before the camera as the older foster child Raoul. Michel Terrazon has an enigmatic stillness about himself that keeps Francois a puzzle throughout the film never for one second letting down his guard to help the viewer understand what drives him to his destructive, brutal actions.
The film has been framed at 1.66:1 and is presented in a widescreen transfer that’s anamorphically enhanced. Early scenes seem dated with rather flat color and only average sharpness, but later on, the film does display good flesh tones and fairly good detail. There is a hair (likely part of the original photography), but other video artifacts have been cleaned up and eliminated. The white subtitles are easy to read. The film has been divided into 23 chapters.
The Dolby Digital 1.0 audio track features only average fidelity with not much in the way of spatial presence. Dialogue has been well recorded and comes through clearly enough, but this is a sound mix that while clear of aural artifacts like hiss or crackle sounds rather flat and uninspired, a typical mono mix of its era.
“Autour de L’enfance Nue” is a 52 ½-minute documentary mixing information about the making of the film with an exposé about the problems and lack of solutions about the foster child system as it existed in France in 1969. The black and white presention is in 4:3.
“L’amour existe” is director Maurice Pialat’s 1960 short film about the contrasting life available in the suburbs of Paris, two miles from downtown, where abject poverty exists side-by-side with modern homes and apartment buildings. The very pessimistic tone of the film earned the director much critical attention. It’s presented in non-anamorphic letterbox and runs 20 minutes.
Critic Kent Jones offers a video critique of the movie praising it for its frankness, honesty, and unsentimental tone. It’s in anamorphic widescreen and runs for 11 ¼ minutes.
Director Maurice Pialat speaks frankly in a 1973 interview about the lack of box-office success of the film and what he considered its problems and weaknesses. It runs 15 ½ minutes in 4:3.
Co-screenwriter Arlette Langmann and assistant director Patrick Grandperret discuss the film and the working methods of the temperamental Maurice Pialat in a 2003 interview presented in anamorphic widescreen and lasting for 6 ½ minutes.
The enclosed 15-page booklet contains the chapter listing, cast and crew lists, a nice selection of color stills from the movie, and an essay on the director and his film by writer Phillip Lopate.
3.5/5 (not an average)
Maurice Pialat’s first feature length film L’enfance Nue doesn’t have the breadth or complexity of some of his later, better work when he was working with the cream of French cinema, but it was an auspicious debut feature and one fans of his will look forward to experiencing for themselves.