The original French title of Wallonian director Laura Wendel’s unsettling debut on school bullying is “un monde” (“a world”) and, as if often the case, the title loses some of its potency in its inexact “translation”. “A World” nails it because if you are a child who is the victim of bullying, the microcosm of the playground becomes your world. You live it, you breathe it. You are trapped inside it, even while sleeping in your own bed. Having made the Oscar shortlist for Oscar’s Best International Film (Belgium), “Playground” had a very brief theatrical run and is now FINALLY available for streaming.as
Wandel brilliantly captures this claustrophobic environment of the playground by making three inspired decisions:
- Hire a great cinematographer (Frédéric Noir Homme) who is an expert in using a hand-held camera.
- Make the camera a major character in the movie, living “down there” with the students and never rising above their level except to occasionally look up at an intruding and unsympathetic adult.
- Cast gifted young actor extraordinaire Maya Vanderbeque in the central role.
Vanderbeque plays seven-year-old Nora, and we are introduced to her on her first day in school (kids start school proper a little later in Belgium). She is terrified, clinging to her father (mother is not in the picture, literally). Nora is lucky in that she has a slightly older brother Abel (Günter Duret) to show her the ropes. She is a resilient and sensible soul who, having gotten to know the school routine, makes friends easily and is initially quite comfortable. Nora’s problem and her great sorrow comes from her discovery that Abel is mercilessly bullied from the moment he arrives at the playground in the morning until he goes home in the evening. Worse, he does not want her help and he does not want her to tell their father. The teachers, with one exception, are no help (more the opposite) and, as this short and ruthlessly efficient movie progresses, we are as saddened – but not as surprised – as Nora when Abel, in survival mode, makes the transition from bullied to tormenter. Essential viewing.