‘Clandestine Childhood’ a film about wartime displacement and coming-of-age

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Clandestine Childhood

Directed by Benjamín Ávila

Argentina, 2011

Philadelphia Film Festival

Benjamín Ávila’s debut feature is a fine balance of youthful longing and militant resistance.

Ernesto (Teo Gutiérrez Romero) has two names. One name – Ernesto – is for his schoolmates, but he goes by Juan at home. His parents also have two names. Horacio goes by Daniel (César Troncoso) and Cristina by Charo (Natalia Oreiro). It’s Argentina in 1979, and five years after Perón’s death, Horacio, Cristina and charismatic Uncle Beto (Ernesto Alterio) continue the fight against the existing regime through violent tactics.

Using a mixed-media strategy where moments of extreme violence are depicted through graphic animations, Ávila’s film keeps the focus firmly on Juan and his budding relationship with a classmate’s sister, María (Violeta Palukas).

Romero’s surprisingly tender and mature performance recalls the two great Ana Torrent roles from the 1970s in Spirit of the Beehive and Cria Cuervos. Much of the film is told through Juan’s eyes, or at least a near approximation – the world of blindfolds, subterfuge and conflict relegated to the boy’s dreams and conversations overheard in the family kitchen.

clandestinechildhood

Clandestine Childhood is a film about wartime displacement and coming-of-age, but also about maturing in a loving, defiant family. Juan doesn’t understand everything that’s happening around him, but his small moments – staring at a co-conspirator’s breasts, falling asleep with a gun at his side, refusing to answer an interrogator’s questions – mimic a miniature reflection of his parents’ own likely evolution as they came of age in the 1960s.

Alterio’s turn as Uncle Beto is a nicely comedic touch, offering a good counter-balance to Troncoso’s fiery worry and Oreiro’s split between affectionate mother and armed radical. Many of Oreiro and Romero’s scenes together are among the best in the film: A carefree picnic lensed mostly in a blissful overhead shot stands in sharp contrast to a terse interaction with her son towards the climax of the film.

– Neal Dhand

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