L’Enfance nue Screen 9 articles

L’Enfance nue


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  • A volatile realist who's often been compared to John Cassavetes, Maurice Pialat started out as a painter and a documentary filmmaker, though in contrast to most realist works (as well as most paintings) his movies are too intimate to date very much. He was 43 when he made his first feature, Naked Childhood (1968), a nonjudgmental and unsentimental look at a troubled, abandoned ten-year-old boy who's shuttled between foster parents.

  • Pialat’s is a remarkable achievement, and by all rights L’enfance-nue should be counted as one of the greatest debuts in cinema, on par with Citizen Kane, À bout de souffle, Badlands or The Four Hundred Blows. That it is not is indicative of nothing more than the overvaluation of progress. Which, as Philippe Garrel, another underappreciated French filmmaker, once noted, has no place in the arts.

  • The result was no knockoff of The 400 Blows; if anything, it reversed the experience of that beloved predecessor, in that Pialat made difficult any sentimental identification with the boy, made it equally hard to indict or applaud the adults, and forced the audience to revise its judgment with each scene. In retrospect, L’enfance nue (1968) seems one of the most remarkably self-contained and obdurate debuts in cinema history.

  • Filled with rigorous yet warmly detailed compositions worthy of Chardin, the film is remarkable for its vivid, uncondescending snapshots of working-class life and, in its loving observation of Marie-Louise and René Thierry (real-life foster parents more or less playing themselves), the fullest portrait of an elderly couple since McCarey’s Make Way for Tomorrow.

  • Pialat deals with the foster-care system with a sympathy that never crosses over into sentimentality, and a clear-eyed sense of the problems and limits of rehabilitating troubled children, who remain volatile under the best circumstances. It’s heartbreaking, but gratifyingly incomplete and untidy, wearing its roughhewn realism as a badge of honor, even if it means frustrating the audience’s expectations.

  • Pialat views these doings with a blank, pugnacious glare akin to François’s own, and, as his identification with the emotionally stunted youth and his contempt for the boy’s victims suggest, the borrowings from his own coldhearted childhood were in no way cathartic. The film plays like the work of a bitterly angry man, and, indeed, the set was a battleground for cast and crew. The resulting four-hour yawp of fury was cut down to this eighty-three-minute glint of menace.

  • An unadorned, unsentimental depiction of a troubled ten-year-old foster kid named François (Michel Terrazon)... What distinguishes Pialat's tough yet compassionate study, among the best about youth, is its multigenerational cast.

  • A useful companion to Truffaut’s The 400 Blows, Naked Childhood was a commercial failure, but remains a film of red, raw power and was a vital, now recognized influence on French filmmakers of today, such as Xavier Beauvois and Olivier Assayas.

  • [In The 400 Blows,] Truffaut's widescreen camera maintains a loving distance from Antoine, giving him freedom to explore both the geographic and cinematic space. Pialat's distance [in L'enfance nue], however, is more stoic, almost vacant; his background as a painter is evident in how he embraces stillness to convey the callow simplicity of his subject. Truffaut examines childhood, but Pialat lets it exist in all its contradictory sublimity.

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