La Révolte des enfants (The Children's Rebellion) (1992)
Director: Gérard Poitou-Weber.
Starring: Michel Aumont (L'oncle), André Wilms (M. Alexis), Clémentine Amouroux (La comtesse d'Ozeray), Nada Strancar (Mme Alexis), Bernard Ballet (Le garde chiourme), Dominique Reymond (Jeanne), Daniel Laloux (Le prêtre), Bernard Musson (Le père de M. Alexis), Loïc Even (Le Penseur), Robinson Stévenin (Rase-Motte), Jonathan Zaccaï (Grande Gueule), Renaud Ménager (La Grenouille), Thomas Damisch (Petit Jésus), Quentin Ogier (Le Mondain), Sagamore Stévenin (Tête vide).
drama set in France around the abuse of child labor
1847. Children in leg irons are marched down to a dock and put on a boat. A woman traveler also gets on the boat. She is a countess. On board ship she drops her ball that has the map of the earth painted on it. She goes to fetch the ball that rolls over the deck and over to where the children are seated. The countess goes over and asks about her ball that rolled in their direction. A little older boy denies that they saw anything roll their way and, anyway, they're not supposed to talk to any of the passengers. They all put their heads down except for the small boy who has the ball in his hand. He gives the ball to the countess and she says thank you. After she goes to sit back down, the bigger boy scolds the little boy, named Little Shaver, saying that now the woman is going to rat them out to the bosses.
A guard on the deck warns the countess to stay away from the hellions for they are full of mange. They are from Roquette Prison. She asks if they are all criminals? The answer is that some are foundlings or beggars. Plus, there are some crooks and arsonists. He adds that Mr. Alexis is too kind to them.
The boat grinds to a halt on a sandy beach. Mr. Alexis comes down to the beach. He greets Countess Marie d'Ozeray. He asks if her husband came with her? She laughs a bit and says Mr. Alexis was told that the journalist d'Ozeray would come. "I am she." She says it's her pen name. A group of boy band members strike up a tune for the arrivals. After the band finishes, one boy takes his hat off and the Countess sees that his head is completely shaven. Mr. Alexis tells her the boys are punished, but they are not ill.
Now Mr. Alexis turns his attention to the arrivals. He speaks a little harshly to the guard saying to take those shackles off the boys. "This is a Fatherly Home, not a penal colony!"
Mr. Alexis says to the journalist that he is sure her article will impress all of Paris. The guards march the boys back to the home. Little Shaver spots his older brother, called Thinker, in the group and runs over to talk with him. The new tough guy asks Thinker how is the place? Philosophically, Thinker says it's a lesser evil.
Alexis comes into the dining room and introduces the Countess to Martha Alexis, his wife. Martha is delighted to have another woman at the home.
A guard tells all the new boys to get undressed. When the guard leaves, the naked boys starts cutting up. One little boy starts urinating on the floor. Another guard comes in and gets urine on one of his shoes. He calls the boy a little bastard and slaps him. A boy larger than that guard who has been at the place for awhile quickly tells the guard that he is wanted at the workshop. After the guard leaves, the boys get a very cold shower.
Two girls are working in the kitchen. An little older woman comes in and sits down at a table. She asks Henriette to get her some water. The woman seems upset. Henriette says that the lady is too tired to speak, so just let her be. She puts the drink in front of the woman. The two girls ask what about the baby? Their mother says she took the baby to a nice, clean hospital. She sat the baby boy down on a cloth on a window ledge. Mother then rang the door bell and a kind nun came and took the baby away.
The older inmate now tells the boys to get their uniforms on.
The journalists now meets the Alexis children. They look like two perfect children, one girl and one boy. The two older veteran boys talk together like they are planning an escape from the home.
The boys line up and a staff member gives them an introduction to the school. He says they are in their 7th year as a Home. He says here the boys will be able to live happily. And they will be treated equally. Of course, while he's talking the boys are secretly passing things around amongst themselves. The man says he is called Uncle here. And the boys are called cousins. So welcome to this big family. And the Father is Mr. Alexis. Uncle then says they will be moving their anniversary celebration up in honor of their guest, a woman journalist from Paris.
The big boys are irritated about the change because this messes with their plans of escape. Now they have only two days to get the keys.
Uncle goes into the house to see his wife Jeanne and their two children. He says they are all one big family and he takes care of them. Now he tells the children to run along and go out and enjoy the sun. Once the girls are gone, he grabs for Jeanne and starts fondling her breasts. From a window, the girls watch him have sex with their mother, who is bent over the table, while he asks her isn't she at least a little bit in love with him?
One of the conspirators, a red-headed fellow, sneaks off the boat and goes into a different building. A guard asks him why he's here and he says that Mr. Alexis wants to see Uncle. Jeanne is still miffed at her husband for making her give her baby boy away. Uncle says the boy would have been just one more mouth to feed.
The boys learn how to be sailors on a sailing ship model. Alexis shows Marie the boys working on the ship. He wants the boys to learn a trade. Marie is not so keen on trade school learning, but Alexis certainly is.
Jeanne works as a maid at the home. She helps take care of an elderly man, who is the father of Mr. Alexis. Uncle comes in to see Alexis. He says there's a bit of a ruckus in C dormitory. Uncle says it's urgent, but it's no scene for a Countess.
The boys in C dormitory must have had a pillow fight and the young fellows got the worst of it, being covered in feathers. Alexis comes in with Uncle and tells the boys they are behaving like savages. Alexis asks where's the cousin on duty? The cousin shows up and Alexis says they told him not to move. Alexis is madeat cousin for letting a little boy get away. Cousin says oh, he took care of that boy. He walks over toward the boy, Little Shaver, who is unconscious on the floor. Alexis looks him over, but can't stand the smell and tells Uncle to take care of it. Uncle looks closely at the boy's teeth and then walks over to cousin and gives him a hard slap. He says: "Learn to hit a child right or change jobs!" Then Uncle goes over to Loudmouth and says that the boy really irritates the Director.
Uncle puts Loudmouth and his friend in a small jail cell. He says the boys are going to miss the Home's anniversary party.
Thinker picks up his brother, who asks why can't he hear? Thinker tells his brother not to worry because he's taking care of him now.
Alexis is really taken by Marie's beauty and he keeps bugging her for a kiss. Marie gives him a butterfly kiss. Martha sees and hears all this.
The next day Alexis shows Marie where the boys learn about weaving. The smaller boys have to walk under the looms and Marie asks if that isn't dangerous? There is some danger, but that's the way it's done in all the factories. And this little factory has to make some money. If they lose too much money, they will have to close. Marie asks one boy his name. It's Frog. He says when he was small he used to work 12 hours a day, but then when he got bigger he worked 16 hours a day. Alexis says here they use the 1841 law: 8 hours for the young and 10 for the older.
Alexis and Marie run into Jeanne pushing around the old man in a wheel chair. Grandfather looks shocked at seeing the beauty of Marie. He starts clucking, one of his few forms of communication.
Back at the weaving factory, a guard takes one of the little boys back into a private place. After the guard is gone, the boys laugh at the lad's unenviable situation. Thinker tells the boys that no one is to touch his brother again or they will have to answer to him. Uncle catches Thinker talking to the boys rather than working. Thinker takes a slap to the face for this.
Alexis explains to Marie that when his father clucks, he wants the woman to lift her skirts. Both Marie and Alexis start laughing.
A boy who has acne is called Pockface. The guard calls him over and wants to know what was Thinker talking about to the boys? The fellow says he was talking about the French author Victor Hugo.
The two girls are working in the garden. Uncle tells the boys that nobody better be ogling his girls.
One of the boys kisses another. Uncle catches them and says they will do the Dance Ring! The boys have to wear wooden clogs and run around on a raised circular ring. If they fall off the ring, the guard hits them until they get back on the ring. Uncle comes in and puts two more boys on the ring and takes Frog off the ring. Frog takes the soup and bread to the two imprisoned boys. He is not supposed to talk to the prisoners, but Frog asks Loudmouth, whose going to be boss in his absence? The guard hears this and threatens to punish Frog if next time if he talks to the prisoners. Loudmouth gives Frog a hand signal to indicate who he wants as temporary boss.
Thinker is appointed the new boss. One of the boys says that Thinker is no leader. The answer to that is that Loudmouth picked him.
The wife and Marie go to hear Alexis' speech. As part of the speech Alexis picks out two of his best sons: Pinhead and Fanfan. They will have a special meat ration and a pitcher of wine. Thinker asks the Director if they could have their two friends at the dinner and out of the dungeon where they are currently. Alexis asks his name. It's Pierre, called Thinker. Alexis won't free them, but they will get to have the meat and wine. Later Marie says she thought there was no dungeon at the home? Alexis says in some few cases he needs a dungeon. Martha says something to Marie in private: "Maybe you think running this Home is easy? You're prejudicial and critical." Marie replies: her job is to behold and criticize.
Marie speaks with Little Shaver. She asks about his background. He says his parents were in prison and then they died. He wound up with Mrs. Lepage, who both slapped and clubbed him. Then she made him shave her dogs and she would sell their fur. When he cut them by mistake they would bite him. He ran away, was caught and given five years in prison. Then he came here and one of the cousins cuffed him on his good ear.
Pockface rats out his buddies to the abbot. He says the boys are hatching a plot. The troublemakers are Thinker, Pinhead, Dandy and Loudmouth. They have guns and the keys and they plan to kill Uncle. It's scheduled for tomorrow during the party. The abbot asks why is Pockface telling him this? "Because they hate me, and I want to leave."
In church while the abbot is conducting a sermon, what sounds like a gun shot is heard. Apparently, Loudmouth and the other boy escaped, but were soon recaptured. Alexis tells Loudmouth he is going back to the prison. But for now, they will go back to the dungeon.
At a pastry meal, Marie asks doesn't Alexis realize that sending the boys back to prison condemns them? Alexis says he has to make an example of them. The boys are outside playing rugby.
A guard comes over to Thinker saying that he is wanted at the castle. Thinker goes to the castle and there Marie talks to him about the Home.
Abbot tells Uncle about the possible revolt among the boys. Uncle scoffs and says that's just nonsense. He tells Abbot not to mention this to anyone else.
At a little celebration. Alexis tells everyone that Pinhead will now work for Mr. Grand-Guillaume. He will set a good example for the others. Pinhead says to his buddy that Grand-Guillaume is a clod. He then goes up to Alexis and gets his exit certificate. At the ceremony, Martha makes a scene saying that her husband only has eyes for Marie and not her. She says she is leaving with the children and that means no more money and no more home. Marie says none of this is necessary because her research is done and she returns to Paris tomorrow.
And as for Fanfan, he will be leaving the Home soon enough. Fanfan walks slowly over to a window and moves the curtain back and forth twice. This is the signal. Thinker says everyone to their posts! They have already overpowered and tied up and gagged their dormitory guard.
All of a sudden, Thinker and his boys move in on the party. A guard tries to put a stop to this, but a pistol is fired at the feet of the guard, who now stops. Uncle tries to run out a side door, but only faces another group of armed boys. Thinker says that they control the Home now. Everybody at the party now has to line up against the wall. They make the staff and family stay in that room under guard. Now the boys chase down Frog.
The main body of the boys goes to the courtyard. There they shout to let the party begin. They decide to make a bonfire. They dance around the fire. Thinker orders that the fire be put out or the villagers might become suspicious what's going on down at the Home. Loudmouth tells Thinker that when all the boys are drunk, five people only will sail out on the boat. Thinker agrees.
The imprisoned staff are bored out of their skulls. Some are even sleeping. Marie decides to write a note.
Most of the boys are drunk by now. Many are sleeping.
Marie pretends that she feels ill and asks that she be allowed to get some fresh air. One of the bigger boys, Pinhead, takes her outside. She says that she will give Pinhead 100 francs if he will deliver a note for her to the village priest. And she will make sure that his friends are not punished. Pinhead says his real name is Julien Dorman. He takes her necklace as a souvenir.
Marie comes back into the room. When she comes in Alexis says she shouldn't have gone out. And she should have told him her plans. "Your methods are dangerous, vain and costly."
In the morning the boys bring prison food to the prisoners. Thinker talks to the boys about what they should do. They say get boats and sail away. Thinker wants to write a list of grievances about the Home and get the list to someone in Paris who will publish it. They will then change things at the Home and life here will be better for the boys. "And all France will be behind us.' Loudmouth is totally opposed to the plan and walks out. Pinhead says he's leaving for good and Thinker says let him go or the villagers will miss him.
A group of boys comes in and tells the Director that they will discuss their grievances and then let the Director go. And if he refuses? "We will kill you."
Loudmouth tries to force sex on the one girl, Henrietta, that Thinker really likes. She screams and Thinker comes to the rescue. Loudmouth stops. But now the cotton delivery has arrived from the farmers. With the room prisoners watching, Uncle signs for the cotton. Then Uncle goes back to the dungeon.
Alexis examines the boys' demands. His boy and girl are taken by the boys out of the room away from their parents. They say they do this so the adults will negotiate quicker. Mrs. Alexis starts screaming at her husband, blaming him for all this trouble. A small boy comes back in telling the woman to calm down because they can't hear outside.
The boys now make the children of Alexis run around the Dance Ring while they slowly run around outside the circle. Thinker learns that Alexis is now ready to negotiate. He and his wife were afraid of what might happen to their children. When Alexis talks to Thinker, he says: "It took my own children's kidnapping to learn of the Dance Ring." He says he has learned a lot from the boys and their grievances. But: "These gutter urchins mustn't becomes thieves and bandits." Thinker says at the Home the boys are spied on, locked up, indoctrinated. Alexis says Thinkers is an extremist, a hot-blooded youth.
Loudmouth and Thinker sit on one side of the negotiating table and Alexis on the other side. Marie writes down the notes of the meeting. Alexis says he is willing to close the dark dungeon, but he needs the daylight one. And he will give the prisoners decent food. Thinker says both dungeons have to be closed.
A rain storm opens up on the boys. Thinker and his girlfriend Henriette go inside. They decide to have sex.
The negotiations take a two hour break to begin again during the afternoon.
Henriette tells Thinker that her father is very ill. It's a ruse to escape, but the escape attempt fails. Too many boys around with guns.
Thinker talks with Marie. She tells him that when one is negotiating they have to give a little. He asks her to take the soon-to-be-finished negotiations to Victor Hugo.
Loudmouth and Tinker negotiate that Uncle must go. Alexis refuses this demand. He says he makes the decisions and Uncle will enforce the new rules.
Alexis comes out with Loudmouth and Thinker. Alexis has signed the agreement! The boys go wild!
Marie now leaves the Home. Frog drives the carriage for her.
Soldiers have arrived and Frog sees them. He is going to race back in the carriage to tell the boys. (When Uncle signed the cotton delivery form, he wrote "HELP!" next to his signature.
Uncle and the guards are let out of the dungeon. The boys surrender their rifles and pistols. Frog arrives and tells everyone that the soldiers are coming. The boys take up their arms again. Uncle and Loudmouth struggle for possession of a rifle. The soldiers arrive and set up in rifle ready position ready to fire. The struggle for the one rifle leads to the rifle firing off. The bullet its the leader of the soldiers and he goes does down. So the soldiers open up on the boys and quite a few of them go down. Thinker gets hit. Alexis runs out saying don't shoot his children. He is shot down.
Henrietta helps Thinker escape from the castle, accompanied by Little Shaver. The soldiers now check to see if any of the wounded are still alive. Henrietta's sister is alive. Loudmouth is dead.
Thinker and Henrietta are captured by the villagers who are after the bounty. Back at the Home, the boys and Henrietta sit inside the ship model.
Marie and Little Shaver are back on the boat, but this time they're are headed for Paris.
In France, as in other industrialized countries, child labor was a real problem. The working conditions and the pay were just disgusting. A bunch of boys are taken from a prison to go to the Fatherly Home, where they will be treated much better. The director is said to be an idealist and there are many skeptics about just how much the director and the place can do for the boys. The director is an idealist, but is also delusional. He thinks the boys should understand that the place is a virtual paradise. But it is only paradise if one compares it to a prison. By modern standards there was no paradise in the Fatherly Home. The audience gets to see this as a woman journalist is given a tour by the director. The doctor is proud of the conditions, but the boys are still forced to work at dangerous position, but just in smaller factories. They don't have to work as much as do the children in the regular factories, but they are still working very long hours and the adult guards are often very hard on the lads. The place is still a prison with a punitive approach to the boys.
The director maybe delusional, but the boys are going to show the outside world and the inside world that they very much see the Fatherly Home as just a little more relaxed prison. The boys rebel against the institution. And, like a prison, the institutions supporting it are mostly interested in using punitive measures to deal with the boys. And maybe all the good propaganda spread by the institutional staff has fooled the boys into thinking that they were dealing with reasonable men.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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