Ponette [1996]

Live-action films about the very young are rare, and even more rare are such films that work as well as Ponette does, without cloying or pandering. The film stars 4-year old actress Victoire Thivisol as Ponette, who's lost her mother in a car accident. The rest of the film has her dealing with this loss, helped by relatives, but mostly by the other children she knows, and the help is sometimes heartening and sometimes hindering. The core events in the film are nearly all enacted by children, peers of Ponette. Sequenced as they are, they form what can only be termed the mythologies of childhood, using the contrast of childhood and death and the children's take on it to drive Ponette's changing attitudes. The result is seen passing across the face of Victoire Thivisol, one of the most luminous faces since Maria Falconetti in The Passion of Joan of Arc. Filmed cannily in close-ups, we're always privy to the artless emotions of the young girl. She's not old enough yet to have learned to dissemble. Her direct, unaffected performance (if that's what it is) draws us close in as few films have been able to do. If you're unaffected by this film, you might want to reconsider what kind of organism you'd like to be other than a human being. Victoire Thivisol was named Best Actress at the Venice Film Festival 1996. --Jim Gay

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