Little Feet: Toronto Review

Little Feet TIFF Still - H 2013

Little Feet TIFF Still - H 2013

Heartfelt black-and-white production charms without growing syrupy.

Alexandre Rockwell's children star as kids wandering through L.A. on their own.

TORONTO — A micro-budgeted delight that could have been made at the dawn of the Sundance indie boom, Little Feet finds one of that scene's participants, Alexandre Rockwell, imagining his own children as near-orphans fending for themselves on a day-long mission through Los Angeles. Commercial prospects are hobbled by an hour-long running time, but few who see the picture will fail to be charmed; word of mouth will be good if, perhaps paired with a simpatico short, it makes its way into non-fest arthouse bookings.

Lana and Nico Rockwell play Lana and Nico, whose unnamed father dresses in a funny-animal suit for a living and collapses drunk upon getting home from work. "How did Mommy die?" is the film's first whispered line of dialogue, and the children devote much of their imagination to ways she may still be present: They see her underwater in the bathtub, as a feather in the air.

These half-conversations are more spiritually curious than mournful, in line with their response to another death: When one of two pet fish dies, the children worry less over grieving than about how to get the survivor to a river where he might find happiness. Having missed their bus to school, they wander around Echo Park looking for the river -- soon enlisting neighbor Nene (Rene Cuante-Bautista) and decorating an abandoned shopping cart to carry Curly's fishbowl to freedom.

"Wanna see somethin' cool?" is the recurring refrain in a story as susceptible to fun diversions and detail-obsessed projects as its heroes. Episodes in which the kids try on funny costumes or chase each other around are accompanied by perfectly chosen oldies that -- along with David Walter Lech's gorgeously grainy black-and-white photography -- throw off any ties the film might have to the here and now.

Adults are scarce on this day-long outing, and moviegoers may be reminded of the kid-created reality of last year's (far more ambitious) Beasts of the Southern Wild. Certainly young Nico, with his infectious smile and unruly spirit, could hold his own in a charisma showdown with Quvenzhané Wallis. But at heart the film might be closer to one like Truffaut's Small Change, which put unsupervised youngsters in situations they shouldn't be in and suggested they were more than capable of surviving. One assumes Rockwell (who wrote the story with Lana) is a much better father than the one here, but in making this film he seems to be confronting a parent's greatest fear and assuring himself that, yes, his kids will be just fine when he's not around to look out for them.

Production Company: Black Horse
Cast: Lana Rockwell, Nico Rockwell, Rene Cuante-Bautista
Director-Producer-Editor: Alexandre Rockwell
Screenwriters: Alexandre Rockwell, Lana Rockwell
Director of photography: David Walter Lech
No rating, 59 minutes