By Danny Peary
The much-touted “Tout Truffaut” festival at the Film Forum in New York City ends this Thursday. Every Franois Truffaut film is a “must-see” film, but I’d like to call attention to one little gem in particular that often gets overlooked. If Tuesday the 15th turns out to be a taxing day, make it a point to make the trek to Houston Street to see Small Change, a title that refers to kids and not what you have left in your pocket after dealing with the IRS. No, it’s not a history-of-film-changer, like Truffaut’s highly autobiographical, The 400 Blows, which helped usher in the French New Wave, or as powerful as his deeply personal The Wild Child. However, it is, I believe, a minor masterpiece by the cinema’s most tender and humanistic director on a subject close to his heart. This is how I wrote about Small Change/L’Argent de Poche in 1986, which was the film’s tenth anniversary:
“Franois Truffaut’s glowing tribute to children, who must use all their immense, amazing resources to compensate for living in a sometimes brutal, adult-made, adult-controlled world. Leisurely plotted film is set in Thiers [a hillside town in central France] near the end of the school year, and most scenes take place at the school, where the children (ranging in age from about four to twelve) are more relaxed than the students in The 400 Blows, and the teachers are much more enlightened that those in the 1959 film—they care about their students, find the skillful clowning and idiosyncrasies endearing, and want to teach the kids about both school subjects and life, rather than disciplining them all the time. The kids’ lives are tough enough as it is. [The young Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Léaud) certainly would have benefited from having these teachers.]
Other scenes take place around the village and in a housing development where families and teachers live—this allows us to see how the kids relate to their parents. (Unlike in The 400 Blows, the kids seem to have gotten the upper hand, and the parents are full of love.) And significant scenes take place in the cinema, where the entire community gathers and there is no distinction between child and adult. The two children who share center stage are those who have the most difficult home lives. Patrick (Geory Desmouceaux) lives alone with a handicapped father—what he finds missing in his life is clear when he develops a crush on his best friend’s mother. Julien (Philippe Goldman) is a victim of child abuse—a subject that in 1976 was not getting much attention in film or on television.
While this film is known for its humor (which the kids deliver naturally), the child-abuse theme was of extreme importance to Truffaut; he even has a teacher (Jean-Franois Stévenin)—he will remind some of Truffaut—lecture his class on the subject. Otherwise this is a simple film about innocent themes (a boy’s first kiss, boys sneaking into movies, boys spying on a nude woman)—but don’t let that fool you! There are unforgettable scenes and faces, and so much is revealed about children’s special, often-troubled world. Also with: Virginie Thévenéx, Sylvie Grezel, [and his daughters] Laura Truffaut [and] Eva Truffaut.”
Screening times for Small Change on Tuesday April 15 at the Film Forum are: 1:00, 3:15, 5:30, 7:45, and 9:50.