Petits Freres (Little Fellas)
Sound: C Extras: C- Film: C+
Back in the 1970s, Hollywood managed to produce films
about teenagers and growing up that were comedy/dramas (Little Darlings,
My Bodyguard) that showed realistic kids in realistic-enough
situations. As the 1980s kicked it, all
these kids were suddenly from the suburbs and turned into one-dimensional
airheads with the advent of a more commercial cinema. Even John Hughes’ films never rung totally true at their best,
and St. Elmo’s Fire is no Diner.
Of course, films dealing with either underprivileged or
violent kids began to come out of the U.S. in the 1950s and out of England’s
“angry young man” cycle in the 1960s, leading up to Stanley Kubrick’s A
Clockwork Orange in 1971. Petits
Freres (2000) wants to be a film like Larry Clark’s Kids (1995) that
wants to show how bad kids growing up under bad situations have become. Writer/director Jacques Doillon would like
to think he has created something deeper than the run-on film Clark made, but
his film has a whole new set of problems Clark would overcome versus both films
in his grossly underrated Bully (2001).
In this case, we have a film that takes place in the
French suburbs, which is where they happen to keep their housing projects. That in itself was an interesting twist,
though from the way some French talk, you’d think they suffered no such
thing. All countries do, however, and
this film gains points from trying to expose this side of French life. However, the film is heavy-handed in its
approach, especially where race and gender apply.
The film offers us Talia (Stephanie Touly) and her pit
bull, whom she loves, trying to find another place to be when her sinister
step-father drives her out of her home and away from her in-denial mother and
molested sister. Unfortunately, the dog
is kidnapped, leading her into moiré encounters with the bad element than she
needs right now. Unfortunately, it is a
journey without enough about her womanhood, with Doillon settling for the
now-clichéd masculinizing of her to survive and find her dog.
Making matters worse, it was not a problem to see this
world so influenced and drenched in American Hip-Hop culture, but that the
black males in the film are the most vicious characters in the film in most
cases was surprising. They are usually
more of a threat than Talia’s statutory-rapist stepfather, who is not in the
film much. I can handle a hardcore look
at people, even if they are on the politically incorrect side, but the way the
young black males in this film are portrayed is racist for all intents and
purposes. Add the problems with women,
the unreality and unnaturalness in which the kids and situations are portrayed,
and you have a film with some very misguided praise.
There are interesting elements in the film, but they are
highly sabotaged by the junking of the film by these problems, and the kids are
not bad actors. That makes the many
failures all the worse. If anything, it
lands up celebrating the things it claims (within the film and outside of the
film) it is highlighting and trying to say is bad. After all that happens, where is the real friendship the film
claims to feature? If it is there, it
is very dysfunctional.
The 1.85 X 1 letterboxed image is average, with a soft
look and limited colors. The Dolby
Digital 2.0 sound is French and dialogue-based, except when the music kicks
in. It is usually Hip Hop or
incidental, but the Pro Logic sound squeezes the front sound too much into the
center in the strangest way. It feels
like the sides to the sound are chopped out on the sides. As for extras, there is a biography of the
director, some trailers, and a last-minute piece by film “scholar” Kent Jones
praising the film.
Unless you are studying films about kinds or want to see
the problems with the films for yourself, you can skip Petits Freres.
- Nicholas Sheffo