Nobody Knows + Kes


Double feature: “Nobody Knows” and “Kes” are two quietly devastating films that can also serve as markers of their viewers’ progress on the spectrum of adult maturity.

Both involve resourceful children in bleak circumstances.  In both, young protagonists must snatch their own succor when and where they can, from environments always indifferent – and frequently hostile – to their physical and emotional comfort.

Some might say the above description applies to all of us.  And therein lies these films’ shared litmus test for maturity: will viewers’ reactions tilt in favor of (a) sympathy for, or (b) empathy with, the bright-eyed children navigating these grey worlds? Where younger/still-growing souls will identify with the protagonists’ abandonment and forced self-reliance, the real adults in the audience will feel a steward’s obligation to right the wrongs accumulating against them.  The former group will want a hug after these films; the latter will want to give one.  Many viewers will likely want both.

With patient pacing, both films hypnotize as they break your heart.  Simultaneously detached and sympathetic, objective and condemning, both films present nightmarish events grounded in elements of reality. “Nobody Knows” is based on a true story; the remarkable “Kes” features a cast of non-professionals (and social conditions) local to its setting.

One interesting difference between the two films is the relative secrecy of their protagonists’ misery.  In “Nobody Knows,” it is a private shame revealed to as few outsiders as possible; in “Kes,” a bundle of domestic and educational hurts openly acknowledged by the community.  Both films make the point that just because others know about a bad situation doesn’t mean that they will, or can, do anything about it.

For a marathon: Both of these films share what one might call an “existential” view of childhood – in which even the youngest must confront the harsh truths of the universe – with “Fanny and Alexander” and “My Life as a Dog.”

Compare and contrast the hermeticism of the family in “Nobody Knows” with the expansiveness of that in “Yi Yi.”  Secrecy and boundaries of privacy are implied values in the former, but come off as insupportable vices in the latter.  Is this difference a structural or cultural one?

The deep perceptiveness, unadorned beauty, and bildungsroman narrative of “Kes” link it to the extraordinary “The Spirit of the Beehive.”  Its depiction of a constrained set of social and economic choices – and, of course, its bird-raising – brings to mind “On the Waterfront.”  Both films unfold beneath a cloud of moral reproach, and both feature fighters of a kind, at different points in the match of their lives.

What lingers longest after “Kes”‘s bleakness is the spirited twinkle in its protagonist’s eye.  Imagine this resourceful boy in the gentler, but still class-conscious, academic environment of “Rushmore.” Would he have co-founded a falconry club with Max Fischer?  Or is the apter comparison – in the inarticulate contrariness of their preservation of spirit – to the protagonist of “The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner”?  Both need convincing that society is a forum for, rather than a threat to, their hopes.

(Creative Commons licensed original images courtesy of “TheFoodJunk” and “DimSum!” at Flickr)

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