All Good Children -- Film Review

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Irish first-time director Alicia Duffy offers us, in "All Good Children," a stirringly poetic take, gorgeously photographed, on preteen love and obsession. When the film turns more openly generic in its final third, becoming a full-blown thriller, it loses some of the subtle power it had taken such meticulous pains to create.

Nevertheless, it's still very well done, and niche distributors, in North America and elsewhere, might see some steady if modest returns from the film.

Dara, who looks to be about 12, and his slightly older brother Eoin, are taken from Ireland to the French countryside when their mother dies. There, they come in contact with an English family living in the area, and Dara becomes completely mesmerized by the dazzling Bella, a girl who seems to be about his own age. Forging a strong secret bond, they laze away the summer days exploring the world and their own budding sensuality. After a while, however, Bella begins playing with other children and, worst of all, flirting with Dara's older brother. As Dara becomes increasingly obsessed with her, tragic consequences ensue.

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Director Duffy has a marvelous ability to convey a feeling of mystery and dread by poetic means, both visual and verbal. She sparingly employs a fragile voiceover supplied by Dara, a brilliant choice that provides us with an index of his inner feelings. Like poor Dara, Duffy's camera is itself obsessed with Bella, and the film revels in close-ups of her that create a bizarre desire on the part of the viewer as well. The wild rebellious of youth is also well captured by Duffy, and it seems that the wondrous days the children share will never end.

In another poetic gesture, nature and its mysterious power are invoked in the presence of a dead fox being eaten up by maggots and other tiny creatures that live on death, in a shot that will remind some viewers of Lars Von Trier's dead fox in last year's "Antichrist." (Happily, this one doesn't talk.)

Inevitably the two brothers tussle violently over Bella in a scene that rhymes nicely with an earlier moment in which they wrestled with one another, but playfully. In a unique depiction of a child's mind starting to unravel, Dara searches restlessly for Bella, and it's no wonder, because Imogen Jones, who plays Bella flawlessly and with fantastic expressiveness, clearly has a wonderful career ahead of her.

It's difficult to know how else the film could have ended, but several murders ensue as we enter thriller territory and a subsequent diminution of the film's uniqueness. Even here, though, director Duffy's control of formal technique is complete, as she increases her use of extreme close-ups and distorted angles that make manifest the deterioration of Dara's mind.

Venue: Festival de Cannes -- Directors Fortnight
Production Companies: Caveman Films
Cast: Jack Gleeson, Imogen Jones, David Brazil, David Wilmot, Kate Duchene
Director: Alicia Duffy
Screenwriter: Alicia Duffy, inspired by "The Republic of Trees," by Sam Taylor
Director of photography: Nanu Segal
Production designer: Igor Gabriel
Music: Steve Stapleton, Daniel Figgis
Editor: Nicolas Chaudeurge
Sales: Coach 14
No rating, 80 minutes
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