'And then look at this -" It is Mark Cousins's desire to share what he has seen that is so beguiling.
He sees the world in cinema (and in world cinema) and then wants you to see it too. A Story Of Children And Film – which grew out of a home movie of his niece and nephew playing in his Edinburgh home – wants you to look and then look again at how children are on the big screen.
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In many ways a natural consequence of two of his previous projects – The First Movie, in which he filmed with children in Iran, and his mammoth cine-essay The Story of Film – Cousins's latest project argues that the cinema has paid more attention to children than any other art form. It's a bold, unprovable statement perhaps (more than the novel? Really?), but it allows him to free-associate across time and geography to look at the way films present childhood and find a reality some way removed from the treacly sentimentality that at times surrounds the subject in mainstream cinema.
Some of his stopping-off points are familiar (ET, Night Of The Hunter, 400 Blows and Kes all, inevitably, feature), others less so. And it is Cousins's natural willingness to look beyond the familiar that, in the end, makes this film so rewarding and so intriguing. You come away with a huge list of films from Iran and Poland and Albania that you've never heard of before and now are desperate to see. For me, the one that jumped out was the Iranian film Willow And Wind by Mohammad-Ali Talebi, which Cousins believes has never been shown in the UK. In it a young boy carries a pane of glass to his school to replace the one he broke. Getting there he has to wade through water as a huge wind blows. The short sequence we see is both thrilling and frightening.
Cousins's film makes some general assertions about national cinema. Iranian cinema is good on the stroppiness of kids, he argues. Japanese cinema displays their shyness and wariness, while Britain and Russia often address issues of class (Kes is a prime example and, for Cousins, perhaps the best European film on childhood). Such ideas are lightly sketched and adroitly illustrated and, as the film goes on, also deepened and developed.
But really the thrill of A Story Of Children And Film is the way it makes us pay attention to stuff we might ignore. "And then look at this -" Cousins says. And we do. Why would we not when there is so much to see that we haven't seen?