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I had often wondered why, in the documentary portrayal's of street
kids, 'Streetwise' was the one to garner all of the attention. Granted,
it too, was a heartbreaking look at some kids affected by some pretty
tumultuous times in this country thanks to many idiot policymakers
euphemistic ideas about trickle-down economies. Sad as it is to say, I
think the appeal comes from 80s nostalgia, and particularly nostalgia
for the 80s American teenager. 'Children Underground,' which follows
five children living in a subway station in Romania is much more
disturbing and stark portrayal than Streetwise. As the prologue
explains, many children found themselves on the street because, after
the fall of Communism in Romania, the economy and state facilities in
particular were effected and became ill-equipped to deal with
hardships. Although, some of the kids portrayed in this documentary
left home as a result of family problems.
Of the five children are Cristina Ionescu (16) is the oldest and I suppose the protectorate of the group of subway children. Although, she never seems to be too sincere in this role, beating the younger ones herself sometimes. Her background involves shifts between state custody in an orphanage and later an asylum because, as she said, she refused to let herself be beaten or taken advantage of and fought back.
Mihai Tudose was probably the most interesting among the street children; a 12 year-old boy who ran away from home because, as he explains, his father beat him. He always seemed to be in search of something better than the street life, but it just didn't seem that many were able to help him out. For example, we see him attending the school for street children, but when the social workers went home to get the papers that would enable his attendance, his parents wouldn't give them up. He was, just as the synopsis for the film says, a particularly intelligent boy. He just seemed to want to give up life in the subway in exchange even for the company of a pseudo-family (the homeless mother and the baby living in the abandoned building).
Macarena Rosu (14) was perhaps the saddest case because she basically spends the entire film huffing paint with other street kids. And, to the point that by the end, it seems that she has become either schizophrenic or manic depressant as a result, rationalizing her existence with the imaginary mother and father living outside of Bucharest and the twin sister by the same name attending private school, even though we know her to have arrived on the streets straight from an orphanage.
Ana and Marian Turturica are the youngest of the group. They never really get the full story as to why Ana (10) kept running away from home or why she eventually got her brother, Marian (8) to come with her. I would suspect, based on the stepfather's conversation, that it was because she at least did not get along with him. Or, that they felt incapable of living with their mother while she and the stepfather were unemployed and barely surviving themselves.
There doesn't seem to be much that could be done through the state to help these children. The hospital for street kids, for example, had no place to house the children. There were other facilities that were so limited on beds that the children first had to be deemed capable of rehabilitation, which basically meant that, since these children were hoooked on huffing paint, it wasn't likely that they would be admitted. And the older ones, it seemed, stood no chance of consideration at all.
I think in part that this movie was more stark than Streetwise is because so many of the children weren't yet even teenagers when the movie was filmed. And few of them seem to be living in any sort of euphoric sense of freedom. The situation is bad and they appear to well aware that for many of them, they're trapped in it. (Although, that is not to make light of the situations faced by the kids in Streetwise). It is, as other said, a hard to film to take in. There are scenes in the film where you wish the filmmakers, if no one else, would intervene. Especially in the moments where the youngest are beat up, where Mihai inflicts mutilation upon himself, of the kids who spend all day with their face in bag full of Aurolac paint, of the underfunded facilitaties that couldn't provide enough assistance, and also of the families who seem just as hopeless as the children. It is indeed an incredible piece of film-making.
This is a very powerful documentary of the lives of children in Romania in the late 1990's living in a subway station. By careful filming and concentrating on five children ranging in age from 8 to 15, and by using mostly their own words and interactions, the stark realities of their survival are allowed to show themselves rather than being extracted by force. The follow-up material at the end of the film as well as in the supplements on the DVD are as significant for the effect on the viewer as the body of the documentary. Although the home conditions from which these young people fled are repugnant to our sensibilities, it's clear there is more to their endurance of street life than that. When one boy is asked what he likes best about living in the streets, he thinks a moment and then shouts, "I get to live FREE!" and does a little dance to illustrate. How sad that children should have to sacrifice such basic amenities as health care and education to get a little control over their own lives. In an interview, the film-maker confesses that the most difficult task of all was not intervening as these small people were beaten and insulted, and as they remained perpetually intoxicated on volatile solvents. I agree with the choice. Intervention in the immediate term would not have altered the course of any of their lives, and the impact of the film would have been destroyed. I hope that BOTH lessons here are not lost on the audience -- not only what privations follow a society's collapse, but also what children and ALL humans are willing to suffer in order to gain some personal autonomy.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Spoilers (for a documentary)
I have just watched the DVD for Children Underground and found it to be very disturbing, as it should be. The situation of the homeless children isn't all that different from the homeless here in the states. The scope of the problem in Romania is larger, but the film only focuses on a small number of children. They are drug addicted, mischievous, and seemingly addicted to living on the street. A group of social workers in a shelter bring up the issue of how children become accustomed to living on the street are not able to adapt to shelter life. I can't recall another documentary touching on the idea of how difficult it is to help certain people, even when resources are available to do so. Medicine is expensive and clinics can not afford to waste it on addicts, shelters can not afford to provide for those deemed incapable of rehabilitation. Even if the children want help, and many don't, or don't appear to know how to accept it, they must be prepared even before being brought into a shelter. The damage done to these kids isn't easy to diagnose or repair. They may have suffered at home, been made despondent extreme poverty, and have psychiatric conditions. Once they are on the street they need to be "deprogrammed" before they can begin to change their ways. In my opinion, they will never be all right, they will always be 'shell shocked' by their experiences.
We hear about one girl that is at times proud of how "street" she is and at other times hardworking and attending school. Unfortunately, she is routinely suspended from school due to her addiction to huffing paint. The drug of choice for these kids is Aurolac, or paint. I saw a documentary on Seattle's street kids and many of them were addicted to heroin. Heroin is a much more dangerous drug, and one wonders if the kids addicted to paint in the movie will eventually move on to harder drugs.
Ana doesn't talk about her parents or her situation. She has run away from home many times, and she has taken her younger brother with her to live on the streets. When the filmmakers meet her parents we learn that they are unemployed and unable to support their kids. The stepfather says that he doesn't beat her, but talks down to her, and says that he almost left their mother because of the kids. The parents ask the children whether they want to stay or go to back to the city, and it is hard to tell what they really want her to do. I felt like they were pushing her away, getting her to make the decision so that they can't be held liable for abandonment charges. The stepfather even says "this isn't abandonment" in response to her decision. Perhaps the most disconcerting moment for me was watching the "Where are they now?" extras on the DVD and learning that Ana's mother gave birth to twins in 2002. I just thought, after all I have seen and learned, Why? Why would she bring two more children into the world when she literally can not provide even a basic existence for her current children?
The movie has the stories of other street children. Many similarities are found in the stories. There are, in fact, tens of thousands of similar stories in Romania. We are left to wonder the eventual outcome. Will these children be ignored and brushed aside by the people walking the streets, and by their government. Will the generation of homeless be left to die out? Will they get pregnant and raise their children on the streets, creating a new generation of street kids? What are the current conditions in Romania? Is there a steady stream of new children coming to live on the streets?
Focused on the lives of five Romanian children Cristina, an orphan who led
a band of children living in a subway station, and who grew up and survived
passing as a boy; the charming boy Mihai, who loves poetry, wants education
and who has run away from an abusive father; Macarena, perhaps the most
dramatic of all, a drug addict who had not even realized she had a mother;
and Ana and her brother Marian, who left behind their town and the extreme
poverty at home, only to find worst conditions in the streets-, "Children
Underground" shows how the Romanian government has yet to find a way to deal
with these children, who after a month or so in the street are difficult to
rehabilitate. The movie follows the kids everywhere, and is a silent witness
of all the violence and abuse they have to deal with on a daily basis. The
filmmaker Edet Belzberg opens the movie with a propaganda warning, telling
us that the children of the Bucharest streets are the result of the
anti-abortion and birth control laws of dictator Ceaucescu. It does not take
much to deduce that Belzberg means that this terrible situation is a
consequence of the Socialist regime, but as in "Power Trip"- the film
becomes more interesting when, after a while, one realizes that neither
Capitalism has sound answers for the situation of deprived children all over
the world. If Belzberg had told us instead that we all have certain
responsability for every single injustice in the world, including what she
is about to show, it would have been a more telling relationship between
filmmaker and viewer. As it is, it is a good documentary nevertheless, that
unintentionally becomes another statement of the need of humanity to find
better ways to share world's wealth.
I was curious to see this film having spent time in Bucharest several years ago. I never ventured onto the subway but did have occasion to go into the underground....which is necessary in many European cities since the streets are often quite wide and difficult to cross. This is particularly true in Bucharest where everything that the former dictator built-- the buildings, the roads, etc. all appear to be on steroids. Add to this the fact that so many of the nominated documentaries (and foreign films) are never properly distributed here --even in NYC..In any event, this is a very disturbing film; at times difficult to watch and as I recall the film makers received considerable criticism on their decision not to "interfere" with what was taking place --to allow the physical and mental abuse of the children by the older "leaders of the pack" and by the parents who also appear in the film as well as the lethal consumption of lead paint taken by the children to get them high and that clearly was contributing to their deteriation. It was stark, disturbing, very difficult to watch but incredible filmmaking , nonetheless.
Nightmarish look at the lives of Romanian kids living in a large subway
station in Bucharest, most of the kids are runaways from abusive homes
or orphans, and most are addicted to huffing a toxic silver paint
The number of homeless children in Romania is very high due to a stupid decision made some years back to ban birth control. Many families in the current free market economy can't take care of the kids, who are shipped off to who-knows-what state-run childcare facility.
The film follows a number of the kids. The stories are heartbreaking. The filmmakers decision to stay passive during filming is troubling. Obviously, they want to capture reality, warts and all, for the viewer. I can respect that. But its nevertheless disturbing to watch the filmmakers passively "watch" a weeping ten-year old girl get viciously beaten by a street gang (in the next scene her nose is broken) or a 12 old boy mutilate himself with a piece of glass. The lack of action smacks of hypocrisy, especially in a film that presents itself as an indictment of apathy.
Trips to several kids' homes reveal worlds more menacing than life living on the streets.
Of all the kids Mikhil seems like he has the most promise. He seems upbeat, with a lot of spunk, and talks about getting an education. Cristina, the eldest and leader of the gang, lords over them in ways that seem militaristic. Macarena, perpetually weeping and high, hands and face smeared with silver paint, seems the most fargone. The bottomless look in her eyes is the most disturbing thing about the film. Ana is alternately responsible and uncontrollable. She dotes on her little brother maternally.
Heartbreaking movie. Children shouldn't have to live like this. Unfortunately, it is not just in Romania, all over the world this problem is widespread. I'm glad this film brings a bit of this to light
This film shows the daily routine of a group of homeless Romanian children living in a train station. Anyone who has ever seen or read about the homeless knows how depressing it is, and seeing children in this state of affairs only heightens it. The children here are addicted to Aurolac paint, which they inhale to get high. While the subject matter couldn't be any more depressing, Children Underground is very well made and holds one's attention.
I watched this docu last night; aired on TVO Toronto. It initially drew
me in due to the filming format... no commentary or host; just raw
footage documenting the life of these children on the street in
Bucharest. I like this format. It allows you to feel or experience
being there, rather than being interrupted every minute by a host
voice. Good job.
The whole account really touched me. You know you hear about these kids, but was interesting to actually see their lives. What really bothered me is how few citizens actually stopped to help or talk to the kids; most just ignored the kids. Each time Ana cried, tears began with me. I just wanted to reach out, but couldn't through the TV. Grrrr.
This docu is worth watching, but somewhat emotionally tugging. Would be a good documentary to show in middle school, to remind kids here in the West just how lucky they are.
Mostly, it served as an inspiration reminder to me of why I like to help others. Which, as I am finding, is often a very lonely road versus my friends who only like to spend their spare time at nightclubs.
Whenever people ask me for some recommendations, I always bring this one up. Iâve seen many depressing films in my life, but this has to be one of the worst. Itâs hard to imagine what it must be like to be one of those children living as they do. The paint sniffing, the lack of food and the fighting at their age is just sad. I found myself forgetting the ages of these children, but after finishing the film the pictures of some of the children have yet to leave my head months later. There are films like KIDS or Pixote that do their best in trying to portray a day in the life of a youth in their environment. This film is a step inside their lives, as even upon a child being gang beat, the camera did not interfere. The image of the child being beaten by a group of other children is vivid in my head today, and should be. This film was meant to over the eyes of people, and I guarantee it will to anyone who gives it a chance too.
Though it tells a sad story of a small group of runaway children living in squalor, the courage and survival instincts of some of these kids is inspiring. The filmmakers, to their credit, avoid preaching or commentary and there is (thankfully) no narration nor much incidental music to manipulate the viewer's emotional response, as so many lesser documentaries try to do. The DVD contains helpful follow-ups telling where the kids were at after the filming was done. Some of their stories are sad, others hopeful. The documentary doesn't create phony drama with "heroes" and "villains," it doesn't condemn or point fingers at parents or society but lets the audience make up its own mind, and hopefully some viewers will be inspired by this film to make a difference about troubled kids in their own communities.
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