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