Foxfire Laurent Cantet (2012 USA) Raven Adamson, Tamara Hope
Viewed: Cinema at Villette Paris Ticket: Euro10.50
On the right to choose.
This is the second time Joyce Carol Oates' novel Foxfire (FF) has been filmed, first time was in 1999. I haven’t seen the first film adaptation or read the novel which is set during the ‘50’s in small town upstate New York, the sort of community familiar to Joyce Oates from her own upbringing. It is a location that will not be familiar to Laurent Cantet (LC) from his upbringing, but to a limited extent, the setting and situations dealt with are perhaps familiar territory from his previous movie Entre deux Murs, which also adapted a biographical novel and dealt with the experience of a teacher in a tough deprived Parisian suburb. But Foxfire for me charts LCs own personal filmic journey, in which this film maker previously concerned with narratives connected to realist situations starts to relocate his subjects in the world of fantasy. In the case of FF the world of the child is remoulded outside of the classroom of Entre deux Murs and projected onto the wish fulfilment structure of the peer group: the girl gang.
It is my impression that in traditional story telling, from fairy tale through 19th to mid twentieth century narratives, the child is portrayed predominantly as victim. Both in fairy and in Victorian story, the child was a pawn of the moral. The child suffered within the strictures of its structured relations; but the good child eventually with help from magical creatures or the working of destiny, was restored back to the world in its rightful place. Children were in the worlds of Dickens or of the Fairy Tale the object of moral and social forces that were beyond their control; of relations with power that were not of their choosing. Even Richmal Compton's creation 'William' for all his proactive exertions, always in the end had to bow to the authority of the adult world.
In literature and above all in film form for some time now the child has been recast as the active protagonist. The child is no longer victim but a player. Like the action hero the child is author of its own fate. In a sense the child is accorded full rights to a fantasy existence which is in accord with the consumer ideological ideal of always being able to choose. It is an ideological imperative of this right that the dream of the child should conform to the adult world view: the contemporary Weltanschauung.
The mapped out possibility of the child being enabled to exert influence over the world as a fantastic realm, is an extension of Hollywood's extension of the American Dream, which signifies in its story lines the right of individuals to self determination. Contemporary films for children (which are also made with adults as a target audience) constitute a logical extension of this right to self determination into the domaine of the child. The child being traditionally an agent unable to shape its own destiny, more a pawn than a castle, becomes a mover and a shaker, a fully fledged consumer able to live the dream able to buy and buy into the dream.
As children are only active in limited spheres of activity, mostly home and school, the film industry has had to recast these locations as fantastic worlds in order to be able to play out narratives of determination populated by children. Adult scenarios in films may be of course fantasial narratives but realistic settings provide a structural framework holding the self evidential nature of the fantasy in check.
Films featuring child protagonists and set in the world of the child, are located either in straightforward magical parellel worlds as seen in the Harry Potter series; or as in the case of FF, the setting and story are retrojected back in to hazy past, such as the '50's that is familiar but different. This setting with its locations props and costumes are authentic up to a point but can exploit the potential of anachronistic attitudes in the children. This allows contemporary attitudes to sport themselves, particularly in dialogue, giving cheap and easy exchange victories to the child protagonists.
Interestingly Harry Potter and FF share some things in common in this process of empowerment of the child. Both are set in a sort of cosy past of certitude and both employ the idea of groups of children held together by secret oaths and the bonds of ritual. In FF, justified by the anachronistic power of retrospective morality, it is the gang of girls led by 'Legs' who occupy the moral high ground and whose actions are both successful and righteous. They live the dream of a fantasial empowerment, and assimilating the consumer diktat: desire.
Whilst having a place in the developing current ideological discourses around child empowerment, FF offers nothing to film. The camera work is superficial and adds nothing to the film except the need to get from shot reaction shot. From one thing to another. The film image is flat and layered looking as it is in many HD productions. The acting performances from the adults is two dimensional cardboard. The script ponderous, concerned with conveying attitude rather than state of mind, and the performances of the girls whilst occasionally arresting, are mostly mechanical as they plough their course through the film from event to event.