Clandestine Childhood is a story of strength in a world that is teetering on the edge of chaos. The beautiful, simplistic cinematography captures the world through the eyes of a child.
Set in Argentina in 1975, Clandestine Childhood is the story of a young boy named Juan whose parents are activists during the Dirty War. Military guerrillas roam the streets, citizens take different sides in the political fight, and no one is to be trusted. Despite material that is not intended for children, the film maintains a child-like simplicity and innocence to it, partly through the illustrations that appear from time to time. Simplistic camera work paired with animation can work wonders when utilized well, and this film utilizes both techniques very well. It is a very stylized film that captures the era well. There is a beautiful slow motion/sunlight capture when Juan sees a girl he likes dancing for the first time. The film is very visual, and could almost work as a silent film.
Chaos, fear, and a lack of full understanding contribute to Juan’s crazy life, which is based on true events, and the horror in the heart of a parent who has a child but must remain armed and prepared for combat is very present in this tense film. Questions are raised that will more than likely follow Juan for the remainder of his life. The fear that comes along with understanding adult conversations is a reminder that ignorance is bliss, and that Juan’s childhood is anything but.
A battle can erupt as quickly as it ends, and it is never for certain who is fighting for what side, and who will end up a casualty at the end of the battle. Life is extreme and unpredictable from day to day, moment to moment. There are major changes that need to be made, even if you’re a child, when you live in a renegade family. Juan has to change his accent, his name, and the stories about his upbringing in order to fit into a culture that even he does not want to be a part of. He is passionate about his history and upbringing in Cuba, and about his political beliefs, which he stands for however he can, despite the danger. As with many children, his curiosity outweighs his fear. Elements of danger still have a sense of fun, but Juan knows where his limits are.
The chaotic lifestyle is strangely beautiful when compared to other childhoods; for instance, Juan still experiences puppy love, teases and gets teased by his friends, and forgets to go to the bathroom before a long trip. Beauty also remains, and is captured through footage of Juan’s infant sister sleeping, his mother’s smile, and sunrises and sunsets. The combination of beauty and danger is striking – one scene in particular captures this ironic pairing between the two when Juan’s mother is singing and smiling with the family, while footage plays of the family packing ammo into chocolate boxes.
The relationships between the family members and quiet one-on-one moments are what really stand out in this intense story. Juan’s parents are still very much in love, and Juan has heart to heart conversations with his father, his mother, and his Uncle Beto throughout the course of the film. One particularly outstanding scene is an argument between Uncle Beto and Juan’s father about the importance of life, whether it’s more important to fight to stay alive or to stay alive and fight. The difference, though subtle, is an important theme that remains throughout the entire film.
Juan doesn’t live life under a rock by any means, despite the fact that his parents are fugitives, but puppy love temporarily blinds him to the sad reality of his situation. He knows how to enjoy the moment like his uncle, but can also be very zealous and studious like his father. For the most part, he knows how he is expected to act in each situation, but he is a child, and children make mistakes. Clandestine Childhood is a poignant reminder that the dangerous moments in life remind us why the precious moments and memories are so important.