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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Little World" is all about Albert, and audiences will naturally take
to him. His friendly, easygoing confidence and likability make him good
company. It's not surprising that people are drawn to him, and invite
him to stay in their home for free as their guest. (Some invite him to
stay forever, but the road beacons him.) Albert longs for four things
in life: Happiness, freedom, love and good luck. He has all of these in
abundance, and when he gets his "happiness tattoo" at the end of the
film, it makes for a satisfying coda.
Albert is like a real-life Elwood P. Dowd, forever optimistic in the face of life's adversities. At one point, we watch this disabled boy merrily crawling, one by one, up the many (!) steps of the Great Wall of China. His joy at reaching the top is sweetly moving without being mawkish.
Even when lying in a hospital bed, having narrowly avoided death, his unrelenting optimism and joie de vivre are undiminished. (One can't help but wonder if Albert's persistent good cheer might actually represent some sort of mild autism or mental illness.)
Like Dowd, Albert seems to enjoy an almost otherworldly insulation from disaster. His plan to travel around the world on no money seems like a disaster waiting to happen, but things move along with apparent expediency. Albert and Anna bring no money on their journey. They get along by hitchhiking, and by the generosity of others. These negotiations are generally not depicted on camera. The impression one gets is that people are drawn to Albert and take pleasure in helping him. (Albert does use deceit to gain passage on a ship, but this appears to be a rare and forgivable exception.) Albert is so likable and friendly that it's unlikely audiences will see his behavior in a negative light.
Albert and Anna's journey, as depicted in the documentary is almost absurdly easy. Their approach is adventurous and spontaneous but also thoroughly inefficient. One suspects that their trip likely had moments of downtime, boredom, delays and obstacles, none of which are generally depicted in the film. Albert's loving relationship with his girlfriend Anna helps anchor the film, although one wishes we knew more about what motivates her. (We're also curious about Albert's decision to continue travelling alone during her illness. Didn't he want to be by her side?)
The film poses compelling questions about who is truly "handicapped" and what makes for a meaningful existence. Albert's life is very unusual, but he ably defends his choices, explaining that this is the life he wants. For him, staying home or working in an office would be death.
The conclusion of the film, where Albert and Anna arrive in New Zealand is very moving. It's here, at the "beginning of the world" that the film explores the cosmic, philosophical questions posed by Albert's journey. It's a fitting and satisfying end, and the fact that the final exchanges take place in English will only add to American audience's enjoyment of these moments.
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