Playground review – the nightmare of schoolyard bullying in the eyes of children | Movies

LAura Wandel’s feature debut was Belgium’s official submission for the Oscars: a nightmare at the sight of a bullied child in a playground impossible to watch without a sick, nervous feeling of rage and dread. The original French title is “Un Monde” – “Un monde” – and the playground is a universe of fear that we all edit from our adult memories.

A rather stunning seven-year-old newcomer called Maya Vanderbeque stars as Nora, seen mostly in extreme close-up and looking. Just the foreground of her crying face provides just about enough emotional charge to fuel the entire movie. Nora has just started school, and her sobbing distress as a mini-drama-queen at the school gates annoys her father (Karim Leklou) and especially her older brother Abel (Günter Duret), a badass who doesn’t want to of his clingy little sister embarrassing him in the playground. When she sees him being bullied by the other boys – who Abel had hoped to bully someone else with – she tells the teachers and her father, thereby humiliating him and breaking an entire unwritten law book on failure to denounce.

At first, Nora naively tries to inform her own teacher about the bullies, Mrs. Agnes (Laura Verlinden) whose ineffectual attempts to reprimand the boys seem to irritate their teacher, whose prerogative it is, and who can see – be the intervention of Mrs. Agnès as an innuendo. criticism of his professionalism. Thus, at the crucial moment, she has neither the time nor the inclination to support her: a fatal concession. And when Nora’s dad clumsily tries to yell at bullies, it naturally makes things worse, a mishandled situation that metastasizes horribly.

A world of adult indifference is revealed: these supposed authority figures are out of frame, as distant as uniformed prison guards patrolling the exercise yard. As with Yasmin Reza’s 2011 play Carnage, filmed by Roman Polanski in 2011, or perhaps the enigmatic school gate scene that closes Michael Haneke’s 2005 film Hidden, child power politics has implications for adults. The playground’s hidden theater of violence resonates in the principal’s office and in the kitchens at home, among adults whose own childhoods consisted of dutifully learning the lesson that violence is unacceptable – but who find anger to be always a natural instinct when it comes to protecting and being seen to protect.

As for Nora herself, the film shows us that she is not exactly a moral agent: she fiercely opposes bullying, but also unnecessarily denounces Abel’s inability to defend herself and opposes to anyone’s inability to consider their feelings. It’s her tactless courage and willingness to step up that ultimately makes the difference – but she’s also a bit selfish. There’s a telling scene in which she hugs her beloved Mrs. Agnes with that same theatrical, possessive desperation she showed in the opening shot, which makes the professor a little impatient with her.

At just 72 minutes, it’s a short, intense feature: it’s possible Wandel envisioned it as even shorter than it actually is, and perhaps its narrative tendons are getting tangled up. relax a bit after the initial spasm of horror. But what an incredible performance from Vanderbeque: an intuition of fear, pain and moral outrage that goes beyond comedy.

Playground hits theaters April 22.

Harold B. McConnell