THE kids ask two questions when we set up a family film over which they’ve had no say in choosing: ‘Is it from the olden days?’ closely followed by ‘Has it got subtitles?’
If the answer to either, especially the latter, is yes, cue groans and sulking. Until the images kick in, that is. Show don’t tell is the mantra of the screenwriter and director, so if the film’s done well and follows that principle, the pictures should yank the kids into the narrative immediately, subtitles or no.
As a family we’ve enjoyed many films which we’d otherwise have missed had we listened to the small people’s whinges. When it comes to subtitles and the family film, use force; cinematic rewards and children’s forgiveness will follow.
Le Havre (Aki Kaurismäki, 2011)
One to watch together in the wake of ‘our’ decision to pull out of the EU and look inward and away from our neighbours and those who come to us in distress.
Aki Kaurismäki gives us a whimsical tale of the relationship between an ageing and poor shoe shiner, Marcel, and a young African refugee boy, Idrissa, who turns up in a shipping container in the port town and promptly escapes.
Marcel first encounters Idrissa waste-deep in seawater under the town pier and the boy asks him innocently, ‘Is this London?’ to which Marcel points over the water and drolly replies, ‘You want there? The other side.’
Had Kaurismäki made the film following the Euro referendum, perhaps he would have thought again about Marcel’s dialogue. Something more appropriate perhaps, like, ‘You don’t want there. They don’t take too kindly to foreigners on the other side…’
Full of wry humour, the kids will give it a thumbs up.
The Rocket (Kim Mordaunt, 2013)
We got to watch this twice as my daughter, 12, missed the first showing and my son, 10, enjoyed it even more second time around.
A young boy’s village is evacuated by the army to make way for a dam. He heads off on foot with his family in search of safety and a new home and meets a colourful and eccentric bunch of characters on the road, including a whacky and avuncular travelling companion who styles himself as the Laotian James Brown.
The final scenes featuring a giant rocket competition in a remote mountain village, with locals scaling towering, rickety frameworks to spark them off and the boy taking his own chances to prove himself and help his family, was a winner with the kids.
Touching and unpretentious.
The Lunchbox (Ritesh Batra, 2013)
There are no kids or animals in this heartwarming tale, but the children were as rapt by the story as by the cultural quirks and differences of life in a busy Indian city. Who knew that home-made lunches are lovingly cooked up by housewives and delivered to office workers across Mumbai via train and bike by a hereditary network of 10,000 ‘Dabbawalas’, meaning ‘one who caries a box’?
When one of these lunch boxes goes to the wrong man an epistolary romance sparks up between the cook and the recipient, with notes sent backwards and forwards in the empty stacked tins. Ours were drawing odds on whether the distant lovers would ever meet.
It’s a wistful love story, to be sure, but it never got too heavy to put off my boy, and that was a success in itself.
The Kid with a Bike (Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne, 2011)
Abandoned by his dad and living in foster care, the only thing he has left that he loves in the world – his bike – pinched, 12-year-old Cyril is having a lonely and tough time of it.
Luckily for him he’s fostered by a kindly hairdresser who finds his bike for him, moves him into her apartment and tries to link him up with his absent father. But when her plan to reunite them doesn’t pan out the way Cyril had hoped, he veers off the tracks and into the hands of local bad-lad, Wesker.
From then on it’s a tug of war between Samantha’s care and compassion and the easy, cynical camaraderie and rewards of Wesker’s life of street crime.
Can Cyril pull himself back from the brink and make the right choice?
It’s gritty and raw at times but by the end of this Dardenne Brothers classic the children will be cheering for The Kid with a Bike.
Paul Blart: Mall Cop II (Andy Fickman, 2015)
I’m throwing this lemon in just to show we’re not pretentious buggers who only jam obscure foreign films down our children’s necks. Honest.
The kids howled. Watch the trailer. If you laugh and you don’t mind putting yourself through something with Adam Sandler on the production credits, stick it on, then lobotomise yourself and giggle dumbly through the first one as well.
No subtitles required. And no bloody foreigners! Well, no Europeans, anyway.
- We’ll be back soon with five more family offerings in posts from Guardian film blogger (and racing editor) Mr Tony Paley and comedian and musician Mr Rob Deering. Odds on there’ll be some interesting suggestions on the cards…