If my time at the Cornerhouse’s ¡Viva! Festival has taught me anything it’s that a large portion of Spanish language cinema is born of unrest, be it social, political or economic. In the case of INFANCIA CLANDESTINA, the crisis is one of both age and identity.
This Argentine film from director Benjamin Ávila tells the story of Juan: a child to Cristina and Horacio, two rebels against the military junta in the 70s. Upon their return to Argentina after four years in Cuba, Juan has to change his name to Ernesto and carry on living his life, while the shadow of his parents’ shady activism constricts his development and burgeoning sexuality. INFANCIA is a gorgeous film. Based on the childhood of its director, it is told with such delicate emotion, almost as if it is a projection of a real memory onto a cinema screen. The sense of family is warming, pinned together brilliantly by Teo Gutierrez Moreno as Juan, who spends so much time peering from behind doors at his parents clandestine meetings with fellow activists as they smuggle guns and salute fallen comrades. He is bold and romantic, and longs to understand this complex political situation for which his parents have sacrificed their lives, and subsequently his chance at a real life.
…sudden shift from carefree, youthful romance to grown up, cruel reality…
At one point, Juan is selected to raise the flag before school that morning: a great honour. However, it is the wartime flag, emblazoned with a fierce sun. He refuses, triggering a fight with another “patriotic” student whose life has clearly remained untouched by the conflict. His upbringing has taught him to resent this regime, but does he hate because his parents have taught him so, or is it because the regime has stripped him of a chance at a real childhood?
Juan sparks up a beautiful romance with schoolmate Maria, that moves with all the tentative charm that we have once experienced ourselves. A beautiful shot, on the journey home from a weekend’s camping trip shows her asleep on his shoulder; Juan sitting fully upright, bold and proud. However, upon leaving his camping paradise, Maria’s hand in his, he is met with the mortal reality of the life his parents have chosen. This sudden shift from carefree, youthful romance to grown up, cruel reality is realised in the most wonderful and terrible way.
Moments of respite are few and far between and often overshadowed by an impending, immovable threat…
Technically the film is masterful; the camera is intimate and bold, and shows the confused detail in which Juan sees the events that unfold before him. He is, after all, a lot like us: a spectator to these times. Moments of vibrant, intense animation play out during the film’s more aggressive upheavals, perhaps as a way for Juan to escape from the desperate reality in which he lives. The film has been classified 12A but it is not suitable for such an audience. The material is not violent or graphic but thematically it is fairly relentless. Moments of respite are few and far between and often overshadowed by an impending, immovable threat. INFANCIA CLANDESTINA is a moving and often sobering coming of age tale that paints adults in a selfish, single-minded light and children at their most innocent, most brave and most afraid.