The direction of François Truffaut itself is a timeless case study. I am watching his films for several weeks and observing his methods, his brain behind those plots and scripts. I am astonished to watch his directional artistry and now I finished his L’Argent de poche (Small Change) which is considered one of his most successful films.
Truffaut was a keen observer towards the society and cared a lot of the smallest and minor details which altogether reflects the realism. Small Change is one of these films which describes human behavior on camera at its finest. The issue of child abuse is raised in the film in a light comedy nature.
The director shows a society in Thiers. Men and women working in shops and institutions, their neighborhood, their social responsibilities; but more than that the film focuses on small children hardly aging between 5-14. It is about kids from different backgrounds mostly lower and middle class, their social life, and behavior towards people from different ages. Truffaut’s trump card is beautifying the story with presenting the smallest of details of their lives which catches our attention like two girls collecting funds on the street, or a father complaining his boy’s haircut to the barber, or two brothers wearing same matched pair of dress like few parents prefer to keep their kids, or the father exchanging their seats when they are unable to see the film in the cinema due to their minor difference of heights.
The film shows and the director try to convince the audience and viewers that more than ours, the children need more attention from their elders whose rank of age empowers to ‘obey’ them. The nature of kids is overlooked due to carelessness or laziness. In the same society, there exist stories of many kids brought to our interest, some of which drops you towards your own timeline of the young hood when reaching towards the age of puberty had many obstacles and hiccups.
If Truffaut’s Les Quatre Cents Coups (The 400 Blows) focused the childhood of his beloved character Antoine Doinel, then this film is the study of more than one Antoine Doinel. Exactly like the former film, the classroom environment is lively in the latter. The hooting, the penance, teacher knocking the door of other teacher’s classroom, the complaints and a moral lesson affecting the students, all this drops you from your age.
Another interesting part is the carelessness of parents towards their infants. A mother hands over her infant to a boy of hardly eight to send him home. Next scene confirms their home is the 9th floor of the building and the infant climbs the stairs and play with that kid. The scene which creates more intensity is when the mother at home loses her wallet and keeps her infant at home with the door closed in order to look after her lost wallet on stairs of all nine floors. With the windowsill open, the infant climbs along with his cat while the whole society becoming spectators of that scene.
When I say the focus is on a kid’s behavior, you have to expect a lot from the film. There is a sketch when a man catches a boy to send his letter to one of the buildings to a married woman for five francs. Then in another sketch, the boy’s manners in eating dinner are brought to our attention.
The child has no freedom of his/her will due to some circumstances. There is a charming little girl who is about to go with her parents to eat in a restaurant with her old bag which is unacceptable to her guardians because that will damage their reputation. Her parents try to convince to take a new bag which doesn’t belong to her but all efforts in vain. They give up and as punishment of her stubbornness, they keep her at home alone and leave. This is easily one of the best scenes in the film showing how her will is not fulfilled.
My favorite aspect of the film is the depiction of children’s fascination and excitement in sexual behavior. It is a natural phenomenon but the cinematic presentation demands bold details on which the acting of child artists are subjected to sensitivity on their shoulders. In school, a boy carries his friend on his shoulder who, through his binoculars borrowed from his father anyhow, watches a naked woman cleaning herself on her window. In another school scene, a group of boys happens to see the ass of a boy’s mother in excitement who is wearing a short skirt and has just dropped her son to their school. In recess time, a kid with all shyness tells a dirty joke of intercourse between a priest and a nun to his group of friends while them listeners are smiling and blushing.
Kids of such young age are invited to develop weird and newly feelings towards such emotions in many abovementioned scenes. Lip-kissing has an unwanted reception in their eyes and I like the director’s brilliance in pointing out two of the kissing scenes growing odd in excitement. In one scene, two teachers who are married begin lip-kissing out of their classroom’s closed doors while the kids witness the scene from the door’s glass whispering and grinning. The other scene is picturized in summer camp when a boy and a girl of same age leaves their lunch and lip-kiss outside the room coming to everyone’s notice.
The funniest scene among many is the one in which two young boys befriends two girls of their age and take them to a cinema where one takes his chance and lip-kiss the girls while the other hesitates.
Above all, a much silent character of a trouble-making boy is a borrowed time to the viewers. He is a sad soul in the class who is a concerned individual but steals objects. One day after a routine checkup, the school finds the boy a tragic case of child abuse and sends his mother to jail. Among many stories existing in the film are presented in light humor with a lot of fun but this story is what raises a strong voice over the subject.
Small Change is an ageless film when you can apply the same stories even today. 40 years after its release, the film still captivates you for many reasons. This film is what easily defines French New Wave movement. Truffaut worries nothing and presents a free demo of child behavior to all ages in a poetic way. It is easily one of the best coming-of-age films I have watched.
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