Clandestine Childhood was a pleasant surprise for me. I added it to my schedule at the last minute when I realized I could fit another movie into my final Friday at the festival. I went in not knowing anything about it, having picked it only because it fit my schedule. As it turned out, it was perhaps my favorite film of the festival.
Based on true events of director and co-writer Benjamín Ávila, Clandestine Childhood tells the story of a family who returns to Argentina from Cuba after the death of Perón in 1974. The film centers around the son, Juan (Teo Gutiérrez Romero), a fifth grader forced to change his name and adapt to a new culture after his politically active parents move into the home of his father’s (César Troncoso) brother (Ernesto Alterio), who uses his business as a front for anti-government activities. Using the perspective of the young boy gives the film a high level of suspense as Juan is protected from the political activities of the family. Juan is often left as the protector of his baby sister, sheltered in a hidden room in the garage where he can only spy the proceedings from what seem to be bullet holes in the walls and from what he can hear.
His newly formed friendships at school, especially that of María (Violeta Palukas), are swept aside when the family’s safety is threatened. But for Juan, his relationship with María takes precedent over politics causing conflict within his family. This relationship between the two young teens is convincing and rather touching.
Possibly because it is based on actual events, Clandestine Childhood doesn’t shy away from tragedy and the audience is deny any last minute turn of events to provide a happy ending as with many mainstream films. Two key traumatic incidents are portrayed in graphic novel style, which risks undermining the impact of the violent acts, but this stylization is handled well, maintaining emotion despite the jarring change of images.
Using the festival’s scoring system, I rank Clandestine Childhood as Excellent or 5 out of a possible 5.
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