TIFF Review: A Story of Children and Film

Looking past the usual suspects in the canon, Mark Cousins resorts to underseen works from international cinema to develop his exploration of children in film in his documentary A Story of Children and Film.  Unlike The Story of Film: An Odyssey, his fifteen-hour examination of film history, where there is a great likelihood that a cinephile would have already heard of, if not seen, many of its selections, A Story of Children and Film uses clips from fifty-three films from twenty-five countries, with most of the selections bound to sail over the head of the viewer. But unfamiliarity with his choice of material may be the greatest virtue of this love letter to children in film, as it enables the audience to go into this experience with no associations to the images at work, and to immerse themselves in the emotions presented.

Instead of opting for a chronological approach to present the excerpts he chooses, Cousins structures his documentary around footage of his niece and nephew playing before the camera, studies their reactions, and relates them to similar emotional themes that arise in films with central child protagonists. Laid out in chapters exploring these recurring emotions, A Story of Children and Film studies manifestations of juvenile wariness, anger, solitude, destructiveness, parental instinct, and dreaminess throughout the collective history of filmmaking. Cousins limits his use of footage from English and French language films, and focuses on international contributions, with material from works such as Hiroshi Shimizu’s Children in the Wind,  Jafar Panahi’s The White Balloon, and Andrei Tarkovsky’s The Steamroller and the Violin making multiple appearances.

A Story of Children and Film  finds that film, only twelve decades old, is a medium in its infancy, and is likewise inherently childlike. The parallel between the antics of children and the development of film as an art form is striking: children are precocious and capricious, and film is still often immature and unpolished in its treatment of certain subjects, and fickle in how it executes particular visions as it experiments in finding its voice, from the gaze of different filmmakers. Because of the film’s barrage of references, it would be frustrating and daunting to try to remember every work featured in this documentary; thus, it is best to approach this love letter to the cinema with a relaxed curiosity and the wonder which the film itself celebrates.