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Cannes 2010. Playful Protest: "Hands Up" (Romain Goupil, France)

Cannes 2010

I always love when a film treats children as adults and refrains from presuming with an adult’s supposedly superior knowledge that there is little of importance to kids.  Romain Goupil’s beautifully contained film Hands Up isn’t for children, but it is of children and childhood without either a patronizing sensibility or nostalgic sentimentality.  Goupil, whose sorrowful, personal documentary on the fallout of May ’68, Mourir à 30 ans (1982) is the only film of his I’m familiar with, sensitively honors the gang of kids in Hands Up by treating their lives with the kind of philosophic and moral weight as that film’s politically active Parisians.  Yet it’s not just a attitude towards youth, but a realization that both the participants and the events of today resemble those of the past, invested with importance and historical force. One of the heroines of the film is an illegal Chechen immigrant (the thoughtful, moving Linda Doudaeva), and raids, arrests, deaths, and deportment quietly terrorize the world outside of her intimate gang of youth. The film’s charming acknowledgement of the secret hideouts, notes, codes, and communications (texting coded warnings and meeting places, cellphone ringtones only kids can hear) introduce a 21st century childhood founded on ideas of social and political conflict, where the young gang's sense of play cannot be separated from their sense of camaraderie and resistance.  Goupil stages all this soberly, directly, with small poetry in attention to candles, raindrops, the two young girls’ lucidity (Doudaeva and the even younger, more direct Louna Klanit), and a weight to iconography and images of childhood games, seriousness and commitment.  It is a completely charming and just film, all the more so in its dedication to the young-young of today, who are playing to shape tomorrow.

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