A scene from "Clandestine Childhood." (Handout )
Drawn from the experiences of writer-director Benjamin Ávila's formative years, the film "Clandestine Childhood" tells the story of a young boy who returns to Argentina in 1979 with his family after years in exile to live under an assumed alias as his parents and uncle take part in revolutionary action to overthrow the ruling military dictatorship.
The film was Argentina's submission this year for the foreign language Oscar, which Argentina won just three years ago with "The Secret in Their Eyes." Where that film felt like a TV cop procedural, "Childhood" is more formless, less driven. Ávila can't quite thread the needle between telling his personal story and connecting it to larger social currents.
Equally baffled by politics and his emerging interest in a girl, Juan (Teo Gutiérrez Moreno) observes the events happening around him, unsure of how to assert himself within his own life. The boy spies on his parents' political meetings, which seem to him more confusing than enticing, with his own political education as dutifully disengaged as learning multiplication tables.
The scenes of his budding romance and moments of self-discovery outside his family have a certain sweetness but lack punch. "Clandestine Childhood" is a sincere effort but also rather sincerely a meager one too.
"Clandestine Childhood." No MPAA rating. Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes. At Laemmle's Monica 4-Plex, Santa Monica.