Tuesday, March 17, 2009


Sometimes a film demands you suspend disbelief and just go with it, not pick it apart ... perhaps remember that it’s aimed at kids.

I Am David is one such film, and the suspending is worth the effort. It’s curious the movie that tackles deep and ugly issues with a young audience in mind. And it’s admirable (hence the point of this blog: it ain’t all Shrek and roses out there, nor should it be).

David, played by a young British actor named Ben Tibber, has lived a good part of his 12 years in a post-WWII Communist labor camp, separated from his parents at an early age. He escapes, and we follow his bumpy trajectory from Bulgaria to Denmark: one step forward, two steps back. The bumps are small, however, and so the expected cinematic arc/construct doesn’t really take place. The film feels like it’s lacking a plot or real tension, when of course the entire story -- one of escape and survival -- is the plot, woven together by threads of fear, distrust, and the unknown, all of which should provide plenty of tension. It’s an odd feeling.

The last third of the film feels more tangible, perhaps more plot-driven, and the appearance of Joan Plowright is a joy (I didn’t realize how much I like her until now). And there are a couple of unexpected plot twists towards the end that are rewarding payoffs.

This is definitely for mature kids, ten or 11 and up (Netflix says nine, but ...). The brutality of life in a camp, of being separated from one’s parents at a tender age (there’s a heart wrenching moment when the mother is taken away), of not knowing life in the real world, is palpable and may be hard on some viewers. Son K was pretty entranced by it, and we got to work in some history lessons as David moved from country to country, e.g., What was going on in Italy after the war? What happened to Mussolini? etc.

It’s not a perfect film, but it’s a solid, entertaining, mature drama, one which may have mom in tears at the end. Kids seem curiously impervious sometimes...

The film is adapted from Anne Holm's internationally acclaimed novel North to Freedom, which sounds like a very good read.

"The single finest novel ever written for children of about ages 9 to 13."
--School Library Journal


  1. I remember "North to Freedom" being required reading when I was young, but somehow escaped it myself!

  2. K is rabidly in into this series right now by Orson Scott Card, the Ender's series? He read the first, Ender's Game, and said it is the BEST book on the PLANET. I don't think it's for kids, necessarily... heard the Slate gabfest crew talking about it the other day. Anyway, he said it's BETTER THAN HARRY POTTER! Ha. Wow. Anyway, I'm filing away "North to Freedom" for the next lull when he says he has nothing to read...

  3. I remember that after seeing the film I had rather mixed impressions. For one thing I thought that it would have been better of the characters spoke their native languages and the film was subtitles. It seemed so weird that the main character was able to speak with anyone in the different countries. I agree with you that while the plot is good - its realization on screen lacked something and the story felt a big vague. I guess in this case kids and young adults would be better of reading the book.


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