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LOCARNO 2022 Cineasti del Presente

Review: Little Ones

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- Julie Lerat-Gersant’s debut feature film speaks of the tortuous journey of a teenage girl grappling with an unexpected pregnancy which turns her life upside down

Review: Little Ones
Pili Groyne in Little Ones

Seemingly destined for a theatrical career (having studied at Limoges’s École Supérieure Professionnelle de Theatre and co-founded the La Piccola Familia theatre company with Thomas Jolly), French director Julie Lerat-Gersant is now leaning more towards film following a screenwriting diploma from La Femis. Her first feature film, Little Ones [+see also:
trailer
interview: Julie Lerat-Gersant
film profile
]
, presented in the 75th Locarno Film Festival’s Cineasti del Presente line-up, is proving itself to be a stylish debut, putting her on a par with the bigger players in the film industry. The movie was born out of a desire to transpose the observations she made in French centres for teenage mothers and their newborns where she directed various writing workshops. Little Ones tells the story of one of these young women and her tortured stay within the four walls of this centre, which started out as a prison, but which ultimately became a refuge where she could find herself once more.

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Finding herself pregnant at 16 years of age, Camille (Pili Groyne) doesn’t want to keep her baby. Unfortunately, however, an abortion is no longer a legal option. After various dangerous attempts to put an end to her pregnancy, Camille is referred to a mother and baby centre which takes in young girls in precarious situations. Surrounded by a sea of adolescents who are wrestling with newborns whom they often don’t know how to manage, Camille is forced to come to terms with a destiny she is struggling to accept, an adult destiny she doesn’t understand and which she has no intention of adapting to. Her only ally is Alison, a young mum wrestling with her own little girl (Diana) who is suffering from serious asthma attacks. Despite having decided to keep her daughter, Alison still dreams of a life made up of parties and drinking, carefreeness and rebellion. The girls in this centre become a warped mirror, reflecting a future which Camille rejects with all her being. Suffocated by an obsessive and immature mother, Little Ones’ young protagonist looks for answers which might lend meaning to her present as well as her past. The centre goes from being an oppressive place dominated by the endless cries of newborns, the sounds of slamming doors and the violent outbursts of the teenage girls it houses, to becoming a refuge where Camille can find out who she is. There to help her on her journey is Nadine (Romane Bohringer), a youth worker who has seen far too many cases like Camille’s.

Despite belonging to dysfunctional families which imprison these girls and suffocate them, some (embodied by Camille) whom the director met during her workshops nonetheless manage to free themselves from their lot and lead the vaguely normal lives they didn’t think they deserved. By way of Little Ones, Julie Lerat-Gersant is trying to show us these courageous alternative trajectories represented by that of her protagonist, Camille. In this sense, the film delivers on its promises, even though the delicate and sadly topical theme of abortion rights deserved to be tackled in a clearer and more extensive fashion, emphasising the devastating consequences an unwanted pregnancy can have when it’s forced upon a woman’s body and psyche matter-of-factly. How does it feel to be forced to carry an unwanted baby to term? How is it that even today, access to abortions is so difficult in some cases? Unfortunately, the film doesn’t offer any real answers to these questions. But it does boast an additional layer of alienation and violence thanks to Superpoze’s soundtrack, composed of a succession of urgent electronic music tracks. Considered a political act by the director, Little Ones might ultimately have wielded greater potency and sensitivity had it opted for non-professional actors (namely, those who inspired the film); in other words, direct witnesses of these emotional upheavals which are so very hard to transcribe.

Little Ones is produced by Parisian firm Escazal Films and sold worldwide by Be For Films.

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(Translated from Italian)

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