François Truffaut’s Small Change (1976) was the first foreign language film I can recall seeing. I distinctly remember some neighbors raving about it and I was astonished by the idea of seeing a film in another language. A think our parents thought Small Change would be edifying so we were piled into a car and a group from the neighborhood all went. I remember being delighted by the scene when a toddler’s left alone and falls out of his apartment window, but remains unscathed. “Gregory go boom!” the boy exclaims to the petrified crowd.
The film still delighted though I did wish for more plot. Truffaut is wonderful with children and understands their lot better than most. The mischief of kids making a mess whenever the adults get caught up in their own lives, the innocence of looking for love, and the loneliness of hiding your family’s poverty or abuse are all present in this brightly colored panorama. Childhood’s changed in many ways with helicopter parents and high tech developments, but some of comedy and even the tragedies still remain.
The teachers monologue at the end struck me to the core in 1976 and again in 2018.
Based on Fanny Ben-Ami’s true story, Fanny’s Journey shows a thirteen year old girl who must lead her sister and friends out of WWII France into Switzerland. This powerful film captures childhood very naturally. The direction and acting are authentic and captivating.
Fanny and her sisters have been sent away from their parents to live in a boarding house that secretly protects Jewish children. When a priest informs on the boarding house, Madame Forman, one of the adults who run the place, manages to arrange for the children to go somewhere safer. She gets them all fake passports and schools them on what to say to anyone asking them questions en route. Each child is given a new name and Madame Forman tests them on them day and night.
From the start it’s touch and go. Germans are everywhere and Vichy French police are an equal threat. At first an older boy, Eli is in charge of the children, but after he’s arrested, Fanny’s thrust into the lead. She must figure out where to go and what to do next once their train is redirected and they lose touch with Madame Forman. As the going gets tougher and tougher the children feel like giving up and have plenty of complaints. Some are so young they have no idea why Jews must flee or what was happening to Jews throughout Europe. Their ignorance showed their wisdom.
The tension is maintained throughout the film and you’re heart will go out to these children. Fanny’s Journey is destined to be a classic.
In the final credits, you’ll see the real Fanny, who is still alive and has lived in Israel since the end of the war.
The children’s book Off to Bethlehem! by Dandi Daley Mackall is a breezy, poetic telling of the story of the nativity has endearing illustrations by R.W. Alley, though I was surprised how much older Joseph looks than Mary. (I guess he looks like he’s 40 while she’s a teen. There’s nothing I know of in the Bible about their age difference. I’d be happier with a younger Joseph. How about 20?)
Off to Bethlehem! is a great introduction or reminder of the reason for the season.
I do feel sorry for children today who’re over-programmed from an early age. I believe in organized activities and loved girl scouts, band, art classes and all, but I was also able to imagine, play with friends with little supervision and roam the neighborhood To Kill a Mockingbird style.