Friday, November 30, 2007

Films about Junior Highers

This past week, I watched two great films about the developmental phase of early adolescence. As my chosen vocation centers around junior high students, these films hit home.

The 400 Blows (1959) is a French film directed by Francois Truffaut. The film centers around Antoine, a misunderstood and marginalized youth living in Paris. Antoine has to deal with pressures both at home and at school. The adults in his life constantly send him mixed messages: at times, he is given adult responsibilities and consequences; at other times, he is treated like a little child. With so many confusing messages and constant neglect from his parents, Antoine attempts to live life on his own in the Parisian streets. While it was slow at times, the film accurately captured the difficult life stage of early adolescence. It also had some of the most creative cinematography I've ever seen in a film, with long shots overlooking crowded Paris streets and in-your-face shots of Antoine. The 400 Blows won a Best Director award at the Cannes Film Festival and was nominated for an Oscar.

On a different--yet strangely similar--note, Welcome to the Dollhouse (1995) is an excellent satire of the middle school years. Dawn Wiener is a nerdy socially-inept outcast attempting to survive seventh grade. I have to say, it was one of the most awkward movies I have ever watched. Which makes sense, because the words "nerdy," "socially inept," and "awkward" accurately describe my seventh grade year! Imagine a female Napoleon Dynamite and you have Dawn. Dawn is a middle child in a dysfunctional family who is driven by peer pressure, emotion, and the need to fit in. She is ridiculed at school, ignored at home, and more or less left to fend for herself. Plus, some of the early-90s outfits she wears were downright hilarious. The film won the Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize in 1996.

While the films have some striking differences--just look at the movie posters above!--they both give accurate portrayals of the emotional distress and marginalization that many early adolescents experience. As different as the characters are in each film, you can empathize as someone who may have experienced similar hurts and frustrations.

Definitely would recommend both to anyone who appreciates film and adolescents!

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