All kids are savages, playing counting coup with the world. Civilisation abuts them from all sides, yet somehow, they keep their wildness untouched. Being half-formed is a big help. They don’t get moulded until they’re in their teens. Before that, before clothes and sex start to matter, they might as well live out in the fields. There’s a ruggedness that comes with not caring what you look like; a pygmy stoicism about scrapes and cuts. Ill-mannered, uncouth, gauche in the extreme; kids aren’t cut out for domesticity. They chafe at etiquette because it goes too slow. Kids are driven by impulse. In Jaro Minne’s new short film, Dandelion, two boys pass the time in volatile idleness. Roughhousing, for them, is a kind of idyll.
The first shot shows a concrete bridge and a scruffy verdant hill. Two brothers have come to play here. I could view the bridge as a metaphor – the brief span of childhood – but I’ll refrain from over-analysis, and call the bridge a bridge. The two boys appear to be the only ones who know this spot. There are no other kids around. No adults to spoil their fun. It’s a summer’s day; you can hear the birds chirruping, see dandelions in bloom. The bare-chested boy kicks at the flowers and the bridge. His brother wheels his bike up the hill. They play dead. They hit each other. They behave the way boys do. And all the while, their inner lives flutter: now happy, now sad, inconstant, cruel, lolling. They’re fringed with grace.
Jaro Minne quotes Harmony Korine as an influence, and his aesthetic is certainly present, along with that of Lynne Ramsay and David Gordon Green (early DGG, that is, not the guy who morphed into Mel Brooks). There’s no narrative, as such, in Dandelion; rather, this is life as it happens, unperturbed by story. The lack of dialogue gives a feeling of privacy, as if, without speech, you can better hear the boys’ thoughts. The private self is best observed in silence. These boys don’t have the right words, in any case, to describe who they are. For that, it takes a third party – be it a writer, or a director – someone who can sift meaning from empty hours. It isn’t that anything pivotal happens in these two minutes; it’s more like, the essence of childhood is evoked. Every child has an undefended face. It’s the reason why they’re bored so often: they’ve no defences to maintain.
Lynne Ramsay’s Ratcatcher came to mind, as I watched the older boy lost in reverie. In Ramsay’s film, there’s a scene where a boy goes exploring in an unfinished housing estate – walls grey as death – and suddenly, through a window frame, he sees a corn field behind a house, and it’s as if his youth was beckoning him to play. He forgets the house. Like the boys in Dandelion, he’s not tethered to the world of things just yet. To be a child properly, you have to be a child outdoors. Nature compliments the unruly hearts of kids. House and home may civilise children, but it doesn’t represent them best. For that, you need bucolic surroundings; preferably, with lots of flowers that could be mistaken for weeds.
Jaro Minne keeps his camera distant from the two boys. Close-ups are kept to a minimum. He wants behaviour to speak. The foetal pose of the boy sat on the bridge says a lot about his vulnerability. In the same way, the last shot, where the bike-rider decides to walk, is fraternal without being cute. This isn’t a sentimental portrait of childhood. Minne doesn’t view innocence as bliss. Instead, it’s the unthinking aspect he’s drawn to; the way kids behave without the need to know why they do what they do. These boys are at an age just before the onset of introspection. Their innocence comes from not looking in the mirror. Playtime isn’t messing around, it’s what defines them. The present – this! – is all there is.
A juvenile has no thought of the future. Kids don’t tend to make many plans. “When I grow up…” is a deferral tactic, at best. Most of the time, it’s simply what grown-ups want to hear; a promise that you’re going to stop acting like a kid. In time, you don’t even have to make promises. Age makes you think of the future. Family makes you circumspect. But you can still treasure your reckless years. François Truffaut’s famous paean to youth, The 400 Blows, ends with the hero, Antoine, running away from the world. The boys in Dandelion remind me a lot of him. In both films, you can hear carefree birds in the background. The clamour of cities is far away. We’re on a jaunt. Being a kid is all about escape.