A Childhood [Une enfance]

(France 2015)

Jimmy (Alexi Mathieu) is about 12 years old and has it rough: he’s already flunked a grade twice and is older than everyone in his class; socially awkward, he calls very few of his peers friends; he lives in a shitty state row house in a shitty neighborhood in a small industrial town in France; and he’s forced into the role of caretaker of his younger half-brother, Kevin (Jules Gauzelin), because his party girl mother, ironically named Pris (Angelica Sarre), is way too caught up in her no-good junkie drug-dealing douchebag boyfriend, Duke (Pierre Deladonchamps). Duke, who lives with them, is the antithesis of a positive role model: he throws parties all the time (even on school nights), sends the boys on a drug run, makes Jimmy stand guard on a copper heist, and literally pimps out Pris. Jimmy, already wise beyond his years, is growing up– he’s hitting puberty for fuck’s sake– and his growing assertiveness riles Duke. A series of events and a change in circumstances takes Jimmy to a crossroads where he may be rid of the asshole for good.

I recall reading somewhere that this screening of A Childhood was its American premiere. As a story, I liked this one. A lot. Both boys play their parts excellently, injecting pathos with every little episode they endure; I defy anyone not to smile at their hijinks or frown at their disdain for the distracting ever-present entourage of losers parading in and out of their home. Their bond is evident even in their bickering. Mathieu is especially tender when he portrays Jimmy caring for what he loves– letting Kevin sleep with him after a nightmare, holding his mother’s hand through heroin withdrawal, tending to a stray cat he hides from Duke in the back yard. More a character study of Jimmy than a true statement, some minor characters seemed superfluous and about 20 minutes could have been cut. The music was lame: some pseudo folky guy with an acoustic guitar singing blase sensitive English songs suitable for a douche commercial. Nonetheless, A Childhood is engrossing and satisfying despite its flaws.

(AMC River East) B-

Chicago International Film Festival


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