Saturday, June 28, 2008

Pocket Money 3 -- Children

Francois Truffaut with the "actors" in his movie, Pocket Money. From left (character names): Laurent Riffle, the hairdresser's son (who is well loved); Lecluc, the fledgling juvenile delinquent; Claudio Deluca; Petite Gregory in the arms of Truffaut; Richard Golfier, a child well taken care of; Patrick Desmouceaux; and Frank Deluca, brother of Claudio.

The real subject of Francois Truffaut's Pocket Money is the care and neglect of children and their relationship with adults. The school teachers are no-nonsense but extremely caring, working hard to ensure the children in their purview are educated. "I'm just as stubborn as you are," she tells a resisting student.

One story concerns the Petit Gregory, an adorable child being raised by his single mother. His father, his mother tells the school teacher's wife, left 3 months after Gregory was born and has not been seen since. First, we see Gregory's mother ask a neighborhood boy of six to take him home while she stops at the market. Then we see her walk up the stairs with him when the elevator in their apartment building is broken. They stop in to see the school teacher's wife and while the mother is chattering away about her blind date from the personals column of the newspaper, Gregory spills out the contents of her shopping bags and starts playing with a hammer. She wasn't watching. Next she gets to her own apartment on the ninth floor with him but discovers she has lost her wallet. She leaves him in the apartment alone, while she goes to look for it. Soon Gregory is on the ledge of the window chasing the cat and soon.... he remains unharmed, but his fate could easily have been otherwise. His mother wasn't looking.

We see the story of Sylvie, whose mother--or the mistress of her father, it is not clear to me which--refuses to take her to the restaurant with them on a Sunday, because Sylvie insists on taking a dirty stuffed animal bag that she has "cleaned" with water from her fish tank. Instead of either insisting that she not bring the bag but come or allowing her to come with the bag, they say, "Ok, stay here then by yourself." She then devises an attention-getting way to get food from the neighbors and once she has it, says to herself proudly and happily: "Everyone was looking at me. Everyone was looking at me."

The most neglected child is Lecluc, who is brought to the school at the end of the term as a welfare case. His address is in a non-residential area. We never see his parents but we see him sitting outside rather than being inside. We see his constant petty thievery. One day he is thrown out into the rain because he was an hour late and spends the night in town before he collapses into sleep in front of the school gate. When he has to undergo the yearly medical exam, it is discovered that he has scars and marks that indicate physical child abuse. The school nurse rushes to the principal's office, the principal calls the police, soon the boy's mother and grandmother (note father is long gone) are under arrest, and we see them in handcuffs being led out of their rickety shelter to a van with neighbors banging on the van windows like an angry mob.
The Teacher, Monsieur Richet

This story becomes the prompt for the teacher's explanation to students of what has happened to Lecluc. "I know we are all thinking about Julien Leclou. It's in the press.and you've heard your parents talking at home. Before you go on vacation, let's talk about Julien. I don't know much more than you do...but I'll tell you how I feel. First, Julien will be taken care of by Welfare.He will be placed in a family. Wherever he goes, he'll be better off than in his own home...where, in his own words, 'he was beaten.' His mother shall lose her maternal right. For Julien, it may be quite a few years before he'll know the freedom to come and go as he pleases. Julien's case is so tragic that we cannot help comparing our lives with his. My own childhood was also quite painful. I couldn't wait to grow up. I felt adults had all the rights. They can lead their lives the way they want. An unhappy adult can start again from scratch. But an unhappy child is helpless. He may not know how to put it in words, but he feels that he cannot even contest his parents' right to hurt him. An unloved and battered child feels guilty. That's what's so tragic! Of all mankind's injustices...injustice to children is the most despicable!"

Given that Truffaut himself suffered extreme neglect by his mother and stepfather (born out of wedlock, he never knew his father), this has to be seen has his own personal belief. After deploring the fact that politicians do not concern themselves with children's needs because children don't have the vote, the teacher concludes: "I feel kids rate a better deal.That's why I became a schoolteacher.Life isn't easy.You must steel yourselves to face it.I don't mean ''hard-boiled.'' I'm talking about stamina!Some of us who've had a difficult childhood...are better equipped for adult life...than those who were overprotected with love.It's the law of compensation.Life may be hard, but it's also wonderful.When we're confined to sickbed...we can't wait to get out and enjoy life.We sometimes forget how much we really love it.You're about to go on vacation.You will discover new places...and make new friends.In September, you'll move up a grade.We'll enroll both boys and girls.Time flies. Before long, you'll have kids of your own.If you love them, they'll love you.If they don't feel you love them...they'll transfer their love and tenderness to other people...or other things.That's life! Each of us needs to be loved! Well, boys, school is over."

The teacher's own wife, Mrs. Richet, is expecting when the movie begins and has her baby toward the end of the film. She seems to be the "Kitty" figure of Pocket Money, but here she is the one who understands children and their needs. When describing Petite Gregory's accident to her husband, she notes, "Whereas an adult would have been laid out for good, kids are solid. They stumble through life, but they're not hurt. They're much tougher than we are." Nevertheless, when her own baby is born, she calms her husband's fears of the child being hurt. The neighbor boy comes to see the new baby and asks a lot of questions about him and then asks: "Do you leave him alone?" "No," answers Mrs. Richet, "I'm always with him."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Linda, I enjoy your site. In your French movie review (do you rent such movies or are they from the library?), you mentioned the book French Toast. I found it on amazon, along with many similar books. Joie de Vivre by Robert Arbor seeems a bit different; the reviews reminded me of your article on Anna Karenina and "prosaics." I thought you might enjoy it.