1. A foreign film: Beware of Children (Barn) (2019)
List Progress: 2/12
(As someone living in Victoria, BC for the time being, I am sad that I’m not able to attend a full in-person Victoria Film Festival, but thrilled that I have been able to see some of the digital offerings. If you are in the area, the festival runs through 2/14: https://2021.victoriafilmfestival.com/)
How many times as a child did you shove someone? Throw something a bit harder than you meant to? Took a swing at a friend in the middle of an argument? The 2019 film Beware of Children (Barn in the original Norweigen) begins in the immediate aftermath of such a schoolyard scuffle, where a thirteen year old girl swung her book bag at her male friend and hit him in the head. And he died. It’s a freak accident that happens in a split second, but suddenly a whole web of people have their lives ruined: the girl, her parents, the boy’s father, the teachers and administrators at the school where it took place, and everyone else connected to those people. To add drama, the girl Lykke is the daughter of a left-wing politician, and the boy Jamie is the son of a right-wing politician, who also happens to be dating the school principal.
Beware of Children is a slow movie, and long at just over two and a half hours, but no time feels wasted. Every moment is devoted to seeing these people cope with the new landscape of their lives and figure out how to live. Will Lykke’s mother ever look at her daughter the same way again? Will the teacher who was assigned to be on the playing field ever make peace with his role in the proceedings? Will the principal’s fling live up to the raw grief of being involved with a bereaved parent? Almost none of these questions are answered definitively, because they never could be, and that is what makes them so terrifying. Combined with some very effective naturalistic dialogue and grounded performances, Beware of Children puts the viewer firmly in the middle of this horrible mess, with no way out but through.
For a story centered around children, I was surprised that only one child actor, Ella Øverbye as Lykke, is used in anything beyond crowd scenes. She does a wonderful job as a confused and angry child dealing with an adult’s crime, and isolating her among a cast of adults trying to contextualize this horrible situation is a great move. The audience never actually meets Jamie, so like the student teacher who started on the same day as the incident, we are left to learn about him through memories from the grief-stricken and try to piece together a picture of who he was in all the different parts of his life. Breadcrumbs and clues come together to form a nuanced picture of a bright, cheeky, flawed young person who was taken away in an instant, and the hole he has left behind.
Beware of Children is not an easy watch by any means, but it is a rich and powerful one. There is no on-screen violence to squirm away from, just the consequences to live in, and all the heartache and pain that that entails.
Would I Recommend It: Very much so.