Naked Childhood

L'enfance nue

Maurice Pialat, France, 1968


François, a child who is pushed around from one foster family to another, has been welcomed by Pépère and Mémère, who already have an older foster kid. In to this Pialat puts in place a set up that is at the heart of many of his films - The confrontation between characters who play their own role: The two children who play the part of the adopted children interview the couple who play their foster parents. The questions are partly staged, the two adults’ answers, telling their own stories, are improvised. The camera also records the impact of the kids’ words, in reverse shot. The décor is also important: the filming takes place in their own kitchen, in their living room, amongst the family photos. Their private and serious story is revealed when they talk about love but also about a child’s sorrow. Then the main story emerges through Pépère’s, a Resistance hero’s, story. The actor playing François then seems to encourage, through his questions, Pépère’s story: the scene seems to have been shot in one take including the sound, we can hear the noises of dishes coming from the kitchen and Mémère humming off camera. At the end of the sequence, François, in an outburst of tenderness that seems improvised, kisses Pépère. The latter, clearly touched, gives him a kiss back, starring at the camera, waiting for it to stop, but Pialat continues to film, catch the actor’s haze and the hesitation which inform his movement. The set-up of an interview in a guided improvisation bears witness to both the trust existing between the film-maker and the “actors”, and the time he must have taken to make these shots. These dramatic stories overflow the characters and strip the actors bare, creating in the spectator an emotion mirroring the protagonists’ one, truly real and impossible to hide away.