Small Change

Oct 27, 1999 at 12:00 am

There’s something quietly desperate about François Truffaut’s 1976 film, Small Change. Made immediately after the director’s dark and unrelenting The Story of Adele H., it has an eagerness to please which seems both anxious and cramped.

Truffaut had early on established himself as a poet of adolescent confusion – that wrenching period in one’s life when feelings of loss start to take hold – and a return to this territory would seem promising. But Change has none of the sunny nostalgia of Les Mistons (1958) or the poignant sense of helplessness which permeated his first feature, The 400 Blows (1959). While those films flowed with the urgency of stories eager to be told, Change seems to have been awkwardly cobbled together with the hope that it would all add up to something.

The film is a series of vignettes involving a group of children in a small French town, most being designed to illustrate the dubious, if not dangerous, belief that childhood is a period of resilience. The anecdotes tend to be lightly humorous – a truculent young girl who refuses to accompany her parents to a restaurant starts yelling "I’m hungry!" out of her apartment window, causing the alarmed neighbors to rig a device to "airlift" her some food; an infant falls from a high window only to get up and giggle, unscathed, while his mother faints.

Threading through these stories are the plights of Patrick (Georges Desmouceaux), a typical kid, maybe nicer than most, who has an endearing crush on a schoolmate’s mother, and Julien (Philippe Goldman), a surly outsider who comes from an abusive home. But the crush, which could be heartrending, is played to evoke cozy sighs of recognition, while the issue of child abuse is raised perfunctorily, as if to insure that the movie’s view of childhood will be well-rounded.

Toward the end, a school teacher has a monologue which sums up the meaning of all that has gone before – a meandering speech which boils down to "children are people, too." It seems to be a weird homage to the Simon Oakland character in Hitchcock’s Psycho, and if it is, it’s the movie’s best joke.

Richard C. Walls writes about the arts for Metro Times. E-mail him at [email protected].