Home > Uncategorized > Sunday Screening #31: Small Change

Sunday Screening #31: Small Change

I love Francois Truffaut. Nate recently read (is reading) Truffaut’s book on Hitchcock (more on that soon). Next week we’re watching Shadow of a Doubt, so why shouldn’t we watch a Truffaut film this week? This particular film I have yet to see, although I think that Truffaut does a very good job of working with child actors.

Can’t wait to see what you all think.

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Categories: Uncategorized
  1. August 14, 2011 at 11:51 PM

    We showed this in repertory not long ago at the theater in which I work. I wasn’t enticed by it then and I wasn’t impressed by it now.

    I haven’t seen a ton of Truffaut — Jules et Jim, The 400 Blows, Fahrenheit 451, and Don’t Shoot the Piano Player (in 35mm) — and I haven’t loved any them. I’m just not that into the French New Wave. I do like him better than Godard, for what it’s worth (and he’s such a cute little man!). That said, this is easily the worst film of his I’ve seen. All of the others had admirable aspects and I could see liking them more upon repeat viewing, but Small Change (aka Pocket Money aka L’argent de poche [incidentally, why aren’t French movie titles capitalized the whole way through?]) is tedious and uninteresting.

    There are aspects that I liked: the brothers who dress alike… OK, that might be all I liked. The kissing at the movies scene could have been good and would have worked great as a short film if the pacing wasn’t so screwy. I enjoyed the sentiment behind it, but I just got impatient. Let’s tighten those screws!

    I’m really hoping that someone will come on here and offer a nice explanation of the point of Small Change. As far as I can tell, Truffaut was trying to show as many different ways children grow up and as many different experiences they have as possible. Within these tales, he appears to focus on how resilient and strong kids are. In fact, he has a scene where a teacher and his pregnant wife talk about that exactly immediately after a kid falls four or five stories only to bounce up and say “Gregory go boom!” Seriously, that seen nearly lost me for the rest of the film. It made me actively angry.

    That’s all related to the absence of adults in these kids’ lives. Parents are constantly leaving their children home alone and the principle of the school is never around when he’s needed. I don’t know if Truffaut really thinks kids should be left alone since nothing bad ever seems to happen to them and one of the kid is actually beaten by his parent so he would’ve been better off alone. Plus, there’s the male teacher’s speech that was all about how children need the right to vote so politicians will pay attention to their plight(s).

    The only other thing I got out of the movie is that everybody has a life of their own that almost no one knows about. Students asking about their teacher’s new child. The female teacher out on a date to the movies going unnoticed by her students. The poor kid who gets beat by his mother. And on and on and on.

    Small Change felt like to worst kind of “look at these precocious, precious children” types of movies. It was frustrating and had a weird message. Like I said, I hope someone can illuminate it more for me. I’m going to give you guys a shot before I read any reviews about it.

    Observations:
    — Silvie’s elephant purse was awesome.
    — What was up with the guy in the wheel chair? He could role himself around buy not turn the pages of his book or answer the phone? Something didn’t feel right about that.
    — “Hold my apple for me. I’ve got to pee.” My favorite out of context quote of the month.

    • August 15, 2011 at 11:51 AM

      Small Change…not exactly what I expected and it will not become my favourite Truffaut film, but I am glad that I finally watched it.

      Throughout his career Truffaut had a fascination with creating films about and starring children, which many would say is a recipe for disaster on the set. Child actors are usually the key to having long non-productive shoot days. Truffaut had a particularly rough childhood, he never knew his father and his mother remarried and Truffaut’s stepfather adopted him, but Truffaut spent much of his childhood being passed around to live with various family members. The loss of his own childhood can be attributed for his obsession with creating films that show a happy childhood. Truffaut’s first film was a short, Les Mistons (available on Youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ne0OS9s8NNs ), which is very much in the same vein as Small Change. The film follows five children as they spy on a young couple and then decide to pull a prank on the girl that goes bad. Then Truffaut made The 400 Blows with Jean-Pierre Leaud, an actor who Truffaut would use many times throughout his career. The 400 Blows started as a very auto-biographical look at Truffaut’s own childhood, but when he cast Leaud the film became a sort of merging of the actors own childhood and Truffaut’s. Every few films Truffaut would return to the subject of Childhood.

      The film is a meandering series of vignettes that all take place in Theirs, France. The main plot appears to be the based around the young poor kid Julien Leclou, who is woven throughout the film a little more then the other characters. I don’t think that Julien’s story is fully developed though, and some of his actions feel like they were setting up something bigger and then they didn’t (stealing the different items). Truffaut appears to be showing the contrast between the happy children and Julien. I think that several of the vignettes were enjoyable, and some were a bit pointless. I liked Little Gregory and his antics. Dumping all the kitchen ingredients was cute. I however didn’t like it when he fell out the window, where I thought the film was going to take a very morbid left-hand turn which I wasn’t going to be OK with. The film was decent, I didn’t fall in love with it, but I’m happy to have watched it.

    • August 15, 2011 at 11:52 AM

      Good point about the father in the wheelchair, didn’t really realize that.

      As far as other Truffaut films to see that you might enjoy more, I definitely recommend Day for Night. The Man Who Loved Women, and the next two feature entries in the Antoine Doinel series after The 400 Blows, Stolen Kisses and Bed & Board, are good too if you haven’t seen those.

    • August 15, 2011 at 12:11 PM

      I wasn’t happy with the Gregory go boom scene either…Truffaut did a great job with the tension in that scene.

      I like your interpretation of the film as “kids are better off without adults”, which is probably fairly true to what Truffaut was going for. I think he felt that living life like a child was a better life then growing up. In a way it is a “look at these precocious, precious children” movie, and I think it does a pretty good job of being more then that, although I think it has it’s failures story wise. The Julien storyline felt like it was supposed to be how everything tied together, but it really didn’t.

      I am pretty sure the wheelchair bound father could operate the wheelchair, but couldn’t do smaller fine-motor-skill requiring tasks. If you notice how he uses a cup to drink out of that sort of has a notch at the bottom that fits between his thumb and first finger.

      • August 15, 2011 at 11:44 PM

        I was actually hoping it would get a little dark so at the very least the mother would have something to answer to. As it stands, it comes off like, “you can do anything and the kid will be fine!”

        You may be right that Truffaut was actually going for that, so I guess a major friction with me is that I wholeheartedly disagree with his thesis and therefore find it hard to get behind the film.

        Keen eye on the cup. I’d buy your explanation for a dollar.

  2. August 15, 2011 at 11:47 AM

    Like Paul, I am a big Truffaut fan. I especially love the Antoine Doinel films, The Man Who Loved Women, and Day for Night. There are a few I’ve seen that I’m not really a fan of, like Shoot the Piano Player, The Soft Skin, and Mississippi Mermaid.

    Pocket Money/Small Change probably falls somewhere in between these two extremes for me. It has that emotional, character-driven sensibility; that attention to everyday details; the naturalistic acting and dialogue; the nonprofessional child actors; and that playful sense of humor that makes much of his 70s output so endearing and affecting. But it also feels less cohesive than it could have been, and perhaps a little too rambling for its own good. But overall I liked it.

    Since I read Nate’s comments before reading this, let me offer this as a possible explanation of the film. This goes into Truffaut’s life a little bit. He has admitted often that he had a rough, unhappy childhood. He didn’t feel loved by his parents, and The 400 Blows goes into his childhood experiences pretty well. But Truffaut the adult has also admitted how much he loves children (along with his two other loves, women and movies). So I think this is his letter of appreciation to children, and an acknowledgment that they have a world of their own that has its own rules and deserves its own special sense of respect and admiration.

    No matter their home life, the life of children has an intrinsic value that people lose when they become adults. I don’t think that Truffaut is saying kids are better off alone, but I do think he’s saying that there is an honesty and purity to the life of children that adults could not understand or approximate, but only marvel at.

    Which leads us to the “Gregory go boom!” scene. This is actually one of my favorite parts of the movie. Yes, it completely sticks out from the rest of the movie as a bizarre moment of fantasy, but it also strikes at the heart of the film’s personality most directly: the unabashed fascination and admiration of children, their naive but innocent, Teflon-like determination in the face of struggles that adults would normally cower in front of. Even though I usually give movies a hard time when ridiculous or over-the-top things happen in them, here it works for me. The movie sort of revealed itself in that moment, and it felt like a breath of fresh air.

    As I mentioned, this is not one of my all-time favorite Truffaut films. I agree that there are some problems with the execution of the various storylines, but it also didn’t feel cloying or condescending to me, either. I think the sincerity and naturalistic, emotional spirit of it all won me over.

    • August 15, 2011 at 11:52 PM

      You and Paul both offer the same explanation about the movie and Truffaut’s point of view, so I’ll trust you guys. It doesn’t make me like the movie anymore, but it adds something. My problem may just be that even if kids have this honesty and purity, I find them pretty boring. And Truffaut pretty much leaves out all of the horrible things kids do to each other (which is the point, but also disingenuous). I kept thinking the kids would double-cross each other, like when LeClou takes the money to go into the theater, but he actually lets the kid in through the emergency exit. I might just be too cynical (or perhaps rational, since very little that kids do is rational) to get behind a movie that revels in childhood so much (unlike Paul, I hated just about everything dealing with Little Gregory).

      • August 16, 2011 at 9:16 AM

        I thought it funny we both posted very similar information at basically the same time.

        I wonder if there was less horrible things at the time, or in France. It is possible that this is a snapshot of that time/place. I don’t know that I quite buy that it is possible, but I’m not sure. Maybe the way it was presented was how Truffaut imagined children treat each other. The fact that the kids never got into much trouble, and always seemed to be helpful did mean that the stakes of the story were never really raised. I thought the stolen hood-ornament would get the car-washing kid in trouble with the car-owner, and alas there was no repercussions to its theft. I kept feeling that at some point Leclou’s thievery would lead to some consequences, but it never did.

        I think that while the movie is sort of a “Look at the cute kids” film, it has more substance and whimsy then most of these films seem to. Plus I’d like to think it’s a sort of snapshot of life in France at the time, which is kind of nice to see (and dream of living a similar lifestyle). Maybe it’s just me.

        • August 16, 2011 at 1:11 PM

          I, too, was expecting the thievery to go somewhere. Alas, it feels like Truffaut justified it by giving the kid a shitty home life.

          I agree that the film is trying to say something, and I admire it on that level. I just disagree with what it’s trying to say.

          Knowing France, I can’t imagine the nothing horrible was happening there. They protest and riot at the drop of the hat (Godard was all about the whole May ’68 thing http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/May_1968_in_France).

        • August 17, 2011 at 9:19 AM

          The naturalistic feel for some of the scenes and nonprofessional child actors definitely had me thinking it was like a snapshot of what France was like at the time. I was also thinking of how personal this film must have been for Truffaut (which describes pretty much all of his movies). It’s definitely childhood viewed through Truffaut’s hopes and fears, and leaves out more objective details.

  3. August 16, 2011 at 1:12 PM

    Incidentally, I finished Hitchcock/Truffaut a few weeks ago and moved on to a (since finished) book of Sidney Lumet interviews.

    • August 17, 2011 at 9:05 AM

      Congrats! I need to finish the rest of the book too. The version I’ve seen has cool screenshots of certain key scenes to help illustrate Hitchcock’s ideas about shots, angles, editing, etc.

      • August 17, 2011 at 11:30 AM

        That’s what mine had and it’s pretty awesome. That’s the hardest part about writing a film book because you’re talking about moving images that can’t easily be shown in a book. I actually wonder with the popularity of e-readers how long it will be until we start seeing video content in books.

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