Joshua Reviews Benjamin Avila’s Clandestine Childhood [PIFF 2013 Review]


Finding a coming of age tale on the festival circuit is about as rare as finding really great character actors selling their souls in a big time blockbuster. However, with these dime a dozen dramas come a low success  rate. That said, when you find one that has the power to stick with you, it certainly leaves a mark.

Even if that mark, in the case of Benjamin Avila’s new film Clandestine Childhood, feels more like a scratch from a cat than a full on emotional gut punch.

Set in 1979 Argentina, Clandestine Childhood follows the story of Juan, who after years of exile with his family, comes back with his folks under new names. This is a type of war and revolution. The members of his extended family are members of an organization known as Montoneros, who are taking on the Military Junta in the country. However, the child, Juan, lives a relatively normal life, as any child would expect. With friends at school, and even a young woman that has caught his eye and heart, this film is a moving, if not all that groundbreaking, look at youth, love and how the only true and real thing that we all share is love.

The first narrative feature film from director Benjamin Avila, the film is a solid debut for a filmmaker with an intriguingly meditative voice. Using the occasional flourish of animation (three times to be exact) to add even more drama and percussive energy to moments of violence, the film itself narratively doesn’t feel all that inventive, but it’s visually quite enticing. These creative flourishes do liven the film up a bit, but the moments of calm and quiet are quite intriguing as well. Shot with a static camera, these sequences allow the solid performances to breath and particularly the turn from youngster Teo Gutierrez Romero.

Romero is the real star here, as is Violeta Palukas, the youngster who plays Maria, the romance for our young lead. The pair are fantastic together, and their moments apart are equally affecting. You can sense the anguish of this secret life on the face of Moreno, but you also get that he’s still a kid. Arguably the best moments in this film actually don’t involve the narrative at its center, but it’s the moments of Moreno’s Juan chatting with his friends.

However, one can’t help but find the film almost lifeless narratively. Yes, the film is moving thanks to the two central performances (as well as the solid, but overshadowed turns by the likes of Cesar Troncoso and especially Cristina Banegas), but it’s driven almost entirely by clichés. The swerves from these tropes are almost non-existent, and save for the occasional flourish, the visual aesthetic doesn’t help add much intrigue. Those looking for something to chew on a tad bit will definitely find something in the intriguing musing on how deeply rooted love is, where it doesn’t matter your name or your assumed identity, love will grow. However, there’s not much more there to dig into intellectually.

Overall, with two emotionally powerful performances, this film has enough weight to carry itself in a dense PIFF 2013 lineup. With some really interesting, albeit occasional, flourishes this film is clichéd, but a well made look at youth and love. Coming of age tales aren’t rare, but when your heart feels a picture, it’s hard not to fall for it. And fall hard you will.


PIFF 36 Link: Clandestine Childhood will be shown again at the Regal Lloyd Center 4 on Monday, Feb. 11 (9:15 p.m.) and at the Regal Lloyd Center 10 on Thursday, Feb. 14 (6:30 p.m.) Details and more information on the film can be found here.

Full Schedule for the 2013 Portland International Film Festival

Joshua Brunsting

Josh is a critic, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, a wrestling nerd, a hip-hop head, a father, a cinephile and a man looking to make his stamp on the world, one word at a time.