Thursday, 25 August 2016

Pocket Money

Pocket Money, Francois Truffaut's 1976 effort concerning a small rural town, the pupils of the local school, and a couple of its teachers, is an engaging, empathetic film that crystallises all that Truffaut seems to think about children, one of his favourite subjects; namely, that they're all little miracles, and they all deserve paying attention to, because you never know what secrets they're concealing, and what truths they're discovering.

The film is loose and ramshackle, in a way that reminded me of the similarly episodic ode to youth "Amarcord", and it's told in a faux-documentary style. There is little plot to speak of, and the film was shot almost entirely with unknowns and amateurs. This makes sense. There are kids we come to know a little better than others, such as Patrick (Georges Desmousceaux), who is beginning to learn the meaning of attraction to the opposite sex, and Julien Leclou (Philippe Goldmann), the bedraggled, scruffy kid with an apathetic attitude who can't help falling asleep in class, and who has a rough home life, and Martine (Pascale Bruchon), who isn't allowed to take the handbag she wants to a meal and is left at home, resulting in a very funny sequence where she gets her neighbours to lower food into her apartment through the open window.

Yet when they are in the classroom, or trampling through the streets, or fighting over seats in the local cinema, the kids become a multi-limbed mass, an indistinct blur, face after face after face, and it is this energy that Truffaut captures with precision. It's an idealised view of childhood to be sure, but childhood is basically unfettered idealism, and Truffaut understands this. It's childhood as we remember it, not necessarily how it happened, but since we don't really remember how it happened, this approach pays off.

Some sequences stand out; there's a bravura piece near the beginning that would work as a short film on its own, concerning a young single mother and her little infant Gregory, who is left alone in the flat so the mother can look for her lost purse. It's a masterclass in observation; the camera follows Gregory around as he burbles and shrieks, plays with the cat, and eventually falls out of a very high window. It's tense, but in this world we don't feel like there is all that much danger; and true to form, Gregory lands without a scratch.

This leads a parent to observe that despite the fact that children bump into everything they see, they nevertheless retain a certain "grace". This must be a sentiment held by Truffaut, since this film is 100 minutes of finding the grace in children's bumbling natures.

There is another moment near the end that, we gather, is an echoing of a truth that Truffaut believes deeply. It occurs just after the authorities have uncovered just how bad Leclou's home life really is, and the school is in a state of shock. It is a monologue delivered by the teacher Monsieur Richet, a new father, and it stands as the films' centrepiece. As Richet talks about how an injustice enacted against a child is the unfairest injustice of all, and of the way we must love those around us, and of how all he wanted was to provide a better childhood for those in the room than he had himself, Truffaut gently spells out his own humanism, and we cannot fail to be moved.

And just as it acts as a summation of Truffaut's own feelings, it also sums up the film as a whole; endearing, gentle, kind, funny, truthful, and basically faultless.

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