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FILM : 'Chemin': A Child's Look at Life

November 01, 1990|MARK CHALON SMITH | Mark Chalon Smith is a free-lancer who regularly reviews plays and movies for The Times Orange County Edition.

"Le Grand Chemin," which concludes Golden West College's French Film Series on Friday, may look to some like a French reflection on "My Life as a Dog." Both movies gaze at life primarily through a child's eyes, with adults always nearby, monolithic embodiments of the size and drama of The Real World. The films have something else in common, too: natural performances by very young actors.

In a pristine peasant village in 1958, 9-year-old Louis (Antoine Hubert) arrives at the home of Marcelle (Anemone) and Pelo (Richard Bohringer, who may be remembered for his role as the Zenned-out Gorodish in "Diva") to stay for three weeks while his mother has a baby. Louis doesn't realize that his mother has left his father, nor does he understand the complex and hostile relationship between Marcelle and Pelo.

With his dismayed look and hopeless air, Louis evokes our protective instincts. He blanches at Marcelle skinning a rabbit for dinner: She blithely talks about "Mr. Rabbit's pajamas" coming off, but all he sees is a dead bunny.

"Le Grand Chemin" comes unsettlingly close to nostalgic heart-massage--director Jean-Loup Hubert realizes that cheap emotion can move us in huge ways. But he is shrewd enough to balance everything with hard, clear-eyed takes on the adult experiences, which keep the movie from drifting into the mawkish.

In any case, the play between Louis and Martine, the 10-year-old sprite and tease played by Vanessa Guedj, is such fun to observe. The barefoot, more worldly Martine introduces Louis to funerals, love-making, town scandals and anything else she can come up with, including a profane vocabulary of blushworthy magnitude. Watching him learn is watching a boy tossed gleefully into adolescence.

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