A charming, involving first feature, Clandestine Childhood muscles its familiar coming-of-age material into something more vibrant and urgent than the usual. Through sharp editing and director Benjamín Ávila's moment-making brio, this '70s period piece charts a young boy's attempts to carve out something like a childhood despite being the son of wanted revolutionaries in the Argentina of General Jorge Rafael Videla, whose brutal government "disappeared" millions just like them. The film is obliged, then, to counterpoint its scenes of pubescent flowering, all delicate and affecting, with those of police-state paranoia: adults overheard in fierce consultations, a cold panic settling in when sirens sound in the street. So when Juan—the young lead played with wounded boyishness by Teo Gutiérrez Romero—is greeted by his teacher and schoolmates with a cheery "Happy birthday," he's even more mixed up about the attention than most kids would be. After all, he's pretending to be named Ernesto, and he has never looked at Ernesto's fake documents closely enough to know he even had a birthday. His family's enemy-of-the-state reality intrudes again and again on his growing up, most affectingly when the intensity of the first bleeds into the second, inspiring Juan to push too hard with a crush that he might not have time to let play out. Also commendable: Ávila's cutting to harsh, garish illustrations the few times the film gets violent. This fresh technique has an impact de rigueur movie mayhem has lost.
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