The Children (les Enfants)

France’s foremost contemporary novelist, Marguerite Duras, wrote and directed (with the help of Jean-Marc Turine and Jean Mascolo) this philosophical fable about a ten-year-old boy (played with a Keaton-like innocence by 40-year-old Axel Bougousslavski) who refuses to go to school because he doesn’t want to learn what he doesn’t know. The child’s attitude poses a threat not only to the educational system but, as the film’s issues wittily expand, to the basis of Western civilization itself; he is examined by a teacher (Andre Dussolier) and a journalist (Pierre Arditi) but neither is able to refute his reasoning. If you’ve never seen a Duras film, this graceful, calmly subversive work is a wonderful place to start: though it doesn’t have the formal complexity of her most ambitious films, it does reflect the qualities of mindan implacable honesty, a cutting skepticism, a deep concern for human freedomthat make her such a significant figure. With Daniel Gelin, in a gruff, funny turn as the boy’s accepting father, and Tatiana Moukhine. (JR)

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