An abridged appendix to his five-hour essay The Story of Film: An Odyssey (2011), critic-turned-director Mark Cousins brings his latest documentary to the festival he once curated. A Story of Children and Film (2013) continues Cousins’ voyage through the annals of cinematic history, this time focusing on the role of children (due to the medium’s tender age in comparison to the other arts) to reflect the form’s continuous evolution. An affectionately assembled mosaic of movie snippets, Cousins has collated a smörgåsbord of some of the finest child performances to ever grace the silver screen, all for our viewing pleasure.
After a predictably analytical exposition – establishing the doc’s ‘way of seeing’ through a prologue about how Vincent van Gogh perceived the changing natural scenery outside his hospital window – Cousins’ gaze finds a more intimate position sat stationary on the floor of his flat, observing his nephew and niece as they play with marbles. However, what at first seems like an incredibly narcissistic and self-absorbed introduction gives way to a fascinating window into the way children behave, and also how their innocence is reflected through the unforgiving glare of the camera’s lens.
From Charlie Chaplin’s The Kid through to Steven Spielberg’s E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, via an eclectic mix of classics such as Charles Laughton’s The Night of the Hunter and Victor Erice’s The Spirit of the Beehive, an intriguing assortment of footage from some of cinema’s rarest and lesser known riches have been brought together. Moving away from the image of adolescents in film as either precocious know-it-alls or demonic hellspawn, Cousins examines how their purity and naivety can often whittle down the complexities of the world – whether it’s the bitter after-taste of war, the human desire to conform to society’s regimes or simply mirroring the despondency of contemporary life through the confusion of puberty.
In its condensed and more manageable incarnation, A Story of Children and Film allows Cousins’ enthusiasm to shine through all the more effectively. The director is himself like an excited child, eager for you to come and look at what he’s created, whilst similarly keen to secure your participation and involvement. Each clip is decrypted through Cousins’ methodical contemplative approach. Almost always illuminating, if perhaps sometimes a little too presumptuous and far-fetched, the practising critic’s commentary is eternally engaging, allowing his audience to question and decipher each scene for themselves – clearly promoting a more analytical approach to cinema.
A pleasant if meandering voyage through cinema’s history from each corner of the world, A Story of Children and Film is a wonderful compendium to Cousins’ colossal essay on the magic of filmmaking. By enlightening the role of children in the advancement of the artform, Cousins has once again lovingly created a personal pathway of discovery, providing even the most ardent and cultured cinephile at least one or two undiscovered films to track down and enjoy.
The 67th Edinburgh International Film Festival takes place from 19-30 June, 2013. For more of our EIFF 2013 coverage, simply follow this link.