Dir: Francoise Marie, France 2007. 82 mins.
A touching, telling documentary about older children's perspectives on the world of grown-ups, Let's Pretend That... has the potential to rival the success of Etre et Avoir (To Be and To Have) - Nicolas Phillibert's widely distributed study of a primary school class in rural France, which was one of the box-office dark horses of 2002/3. The premise is simple: director Francoise Marie took seven groups of children between the ages of 8 and 13 in four different regions of France and prompted them to invent scenarios based on their parents' jobs. Then she filmed them (with, we are promised, a minimum of off-screen suggestions and no second takes) while they acted out their visions of adulthood.
Like Etre et Avoir, the film emerges from, and contributes to, a debate about the social ramifications of the educational system that is particularly lively in France, and it will benefit commercially from the media coverage it is sure to attract. But these are also universal issues, and this is a work of such charm that Pyramide is sure to rack up more than a few theatrical sales elsewhere.
Marie can hardly be accused of cashing in on Phillibert's success: the present film returns to the kids' roleplay themes of the director's 1999 short Petits Histoires de Rien du Tout, but shifts the terrain slightly. There we saw a group of seriously ill children playing therapeutically at being doctors; here the sample is much wider, and the focus is the children's' experience of their parents' jobs.
Captions and placing shots divide the film into four regional sections; in each region we meet anything from one to three separate groups of children, whose parents work as farmers, bar and restaurant owners, policemen, doctors, circus performers, teachers or grocers. But these divisions are not rigid; the film is carefully edited to stress the points of contact in the way these kids filter and process their parents' lives rather than the differences.
There's a surprising sophistication and sensitivity in many of these kids' takes on adult life. Sometimes they repeat phrases they must have heard from their own parents: 'Sighing isn't going to help' one ten year old 'mother' snaps at her ten year old 'daughter'. But more often they work out strategies for themselves, as in a moving and revelatory scene in which a boy playing a doctor has to break the news to a girl playing a grown-up woman that her father has a terminal disease.
Footage of the role-play scenarios is interspersed with extracts from interviews with the children in which they are encouraged to talk about their parents' jobs. There's no commentary; we're left free to reach our own conclusions and compare and contrast the various groups (it's telling, for example, that the circus performers' kids are less into pretending - maybe because they've grown up more quickly, but maybe also because for them performance is a way of life).
The spare soundtrack - confined mostly to the four establishing sequences that move us from one region to the next - consists of some jaunty, Satie-like piano and woodwind riffs.
from an idea by Francoise Marie and Corinne Spodek
Les Films de la Boisseries
Maria Galante Productions
T. +33 1 4296 0220 - F. +33 1 4020 0551
Gerard De Battista