Film of the Month: Playground
Director: Laura Wandel
Starring: Maya Vanderbeque, Günter Duret, Karim Leklou
This blistering debut from Belgian writer-director Laura Wandel is a wholly immersive and riveting depiction of a child’s first few days at school. When we first meet seven-year-old Nora (the remarkable Vanderbeque) she is hanging on to the leg of her father (Leklou) at the school gates. Despite her father’s assurances that all will be well, Nora initially finds the schoolyard melee overwhelming, so heads towards her older brother Abel (Duret) who cruelly pushes her away. Life at school seems to gradually improve as Nora makes friends, then she witnesses Abel being bullied and a moral dilemma is presented when her brother insists she not tell anyone. Keeping the camera at child’s eye level and shooting in shallow focus making everything outside Nora’s immediate vicinity a tumultuous blur (visually, it’s nearest antecedent is harrowing holocaust drama ‘Son of Saul’) Wandel delivers an unvarnished study of childhood with its minor triumphs, disappointments and disillusionments, but invests it with the immediacy of a thriller. Her young lead, mostly captured in intense close-up, is extraordinary as her character learns to navigate her new surroundings. A highly original and stunning debut.