Clandestine Childhood Benjamin Ávila

Clandestine Childhood Benjamin Ávila
6
Prior to the opening credits and title scene — an animated dramatization of politically motivated violence from the perspective of our child artist protagonist — an unrefined bit of title card exposition explains the Argentinean climate and military junta's rise to power following the death of Juan Perón. The history lesson suggests revolutionary didactics and historical repetition as subtext, just as the stylized animation implies art, or dramatization and hyperbole, as a cathartic mode of making externally accessible the internal. But neither of these things really happen. Instead, Benjamin Ávila's semi-autobiographic bit of nostalgia indulgence keeps things broad, loose and highly expressionistic, taking the coming-of-age road of linking pubescence to the tumultuous and violent development of a country.Clandestine Childhood quickly introduces Juan (Teo Gutiérrez Romero) as a boy in flux, travelling with different sets of fake parents on a trip from Cuba (where his family was exiled) back to Argentina, where his anarchist mother and father, Charo (Natalia Oreiro) and Horacio (César Troncoso), are planning some vaguely defined guerrilla tactics, with a chocolate business acting as a front. While the parents bicker with Horacio's brother, Beto (Ernesto Alterio), eventually having a blowout with grandma about the sheer stupidity of fighting covertly in the Argentinean Dirty War, Juan's name is changed to Ernesto (a nod to every undergraduate's favourite revolutionary, Che) and he's reminded about the importance of maintaining a provincial accent when dumped into a regular school. Here, his wispy thoughts about a friend's sister lead to wet dreams, surrealist visions and an abundance of intimate and lyrical first-person, experiential montages where adolescent hormones take precedent over all. This Life is Beautiful approach to political subject matter can work if clarity is given to a formalized purpose. By sheer inclusion of a historically significant event, the suggestion is that the focal storyline has some sort of metaphoric or emotional purpose in relation to it. Here, unknown danger is omnipresent, just as anxiety and tenuous desire propel puberty, but there's no genuine sense of any modern relevance or bigger message beyond that of romanticizing nostalgia. Though the inner-perspective of a boy traversing the terrain between boyhood and manhood — mostly annoyed that a war is interrupting his first stab at love — is a stylistically intriguing tactic to take (the specifics of military strategy are defined only by Juan's limited understanding), it would be more effective if taken to its full extent, rather than intermittently presented. We overhear the bits and pieces that our protagonist does, but they have no context and prove to be emotionally hollow. Still, the climactic sequence is quite tense, working in spite of the spelled-out inevitability of it all, which gives the impression that Clandestine Childhood is better than it actually is. And since this is a Film Movement release, a thematically similar short film is included with the DVD. This time out, it's Ávila's Veo Veo, which is essentially about the exact same thing, only briefer and the father figure is a mysterious peripheral force rather than a present one. (Film Movement)