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At-A-Glance Film Reviews

Small Change (1976)

(aka: Pocket Money)



Reviews and Comments

"Life may be hard, but it's also wonderful."

The quote above is buried in a speech a teacher gives to his students toward the end of the movie. It struck me, immediately upon hearing it, that this one statement sums up director Francois Truffaut's entire filmography. From his very first film, The 400 Blows, and actually since his first short film, Les Mistons, Truffaut's work has celebrated the joy and wonder of life, in spite of the fact that it never flinches away from its hardships and sorrow. Consider Jules and Jim, an essentially tragic story, and yet one which feels so joyful and carefree.

Small Change is like this, too. It recalls details of childhood better than most films on the subject, and it revels in them. There are individual moments in this that made me grin with delight. And yet there is a darker side to its portrait of growing up, too: gradually, we come to learn one of the children is a victim of abuse, and that in turn explains a lot of his behavior. How does Truffaut deal with subject matter like that and retain such a sunny mood? Optimism, I suppose, and love. This film loves its characters and believes they'll turn out all right in the end.

As I said before, few films remember the rhythms of childhood so well. What adult cannot recognize themselves in any of several episodes of the film: of sneaking into a movie theater, of a first crush, of telling a joke you don't quite understand to people who don't get it either, of watching the clock crawl its way to the end of the school day? If you don't see yourself in anecdotes like these, you can probably see your childhood friends in them.

But it's not merely the fact of these episodes that rings so true but their execution. Watching this film is no "remember when" story but going back to relive it all. Some of the stories are glamorized just a little, and in some way that makes them all the more realistic. Through the eyes of a child, life itself is just a little bit glamorized. Experiences that adults are weary of are still new and exciting.

Small Change snuck up on me. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it and how much it stuck with me afterward. Though it gets less recognition than some of his other films, it's absolutely one of my favorites.