Proper Child-rearing Starts With the Humanistic Education of Parents that Can Happen Only If Whole Society will invest in it


Pialat’s film is dedicated to a widespread phenomenon of child neglect in a society where adults don’t feel secure in their identity and income and at the same time are exhausted by their consumerist hunts and distractions. The director uses the obvious problem of child-abandonment by parents to comment about a much wider problem of child-neglect. Occupied with their economic battles adults don’t have enough positive emotions and attention to invest it into their children.


In this shot we see the essence of Francois’s life: being without a constant home, being on the road and forming an identity of a creature outside of reliable human ties, looking at the world from the side, from inside of his isolation. It is this vacuum in togetherness with psychologically benign and emotionally not owerwhelming adults becomes the basis of his criminal tendencies (the result of the absence of rapport with a caring adults).


Foster father does his best to incorporate Francois into a tradition of dedication to moral values, but for the boy the heroic fight with the enemy during German occupation many years ago is an abstraction. He is emotionally engulfed by his living experiences – he tries to crack the terrible enigma of being abandoned.


Both foster parents are trying so hard to explain to Francois what love is by naively giving themselves as an example of a dedication to each other in spite of their age.


They appeal to Francois with sincere emotional dedication to him, but even while admiring them Francois cannot help being occupied with the nature of hate, not love, of the evil, not of good. He has to sort out what really happened with him and why. You cannot just go from the dumpster to the garden of life.


What are for the abandoned kids solemn rituals of exemplary adulthood like wedding ceremony, when they all the time suffer from their (ontological) “badness” which they perceive as a reason why their parents don’t want to live with them?


Overburdened by their unsuccessful efforts to “tame” Francois’ heart, these helpless people decided to quit (typical of foster families we observe in the film). It is easier to tame a volcanic eruption than a traumatized human soul.


For Francois the road to emotional maturity is already blocked by his orientation on exceptional, risky behavior and super-human glorious acts. It is as if he permanently tries to prove to the world how exceptional he is and doesn’t deserve to be abandoned. For him to impress the girl with his prowess in violent situations is more important than to be in her presence, to observe the world together, to exchange feelings. It is from this point grow young people who prefer to conquer the world rather than to live in it, who dream about bombastic careers and loud victories, not about being a part of life.


Sado-masochictic experiences (joining gang with its “heroic” rituals of initiation or later go through a basic military training and passing through “great ordeals”) is irresistible when contact with real adulthood and adult culture is impaired or absent as it is the case in a mass society oriented on power, consumption and entertainment, and impregnated by patronizing or pure contempt for people of other nations and countries.


Masochism is just inner side of heroism when external object of your aggressivenes (of your violent self-assertion) is not available (during wars almost all boys but especially the ones who are deprived by positive parental attention dream about meeting the enemy to crush).


Francois’ mimics in the company of his peers shows an emotional excessiveness connoting keeping secrets from the “boring” adult world and “dull” adult values.


The same excess of emotion we saw in previous shot, we observe when Francois is going to be punished by his foster father – he is ready to sustain the ultimate pain when it is obvious that punishment will not be difficult and is important only as making a point about his misbehavior. That’s what happens when the mental rapport between child and adults is disturbed – the child perceives the world with fantasmatic, illusory expectations. In children neglected by the adulthood and disoriented by this neglect the need in superstitions is substantially higher.


The last hope for restoration of mutuality between Francois and adulthood was his relationship with his foster grandmother who by being with him just a human being (without trying to be his role model) managed to create in him the taste for being a human. But her sudden death triggered a massive deterioration in his condition, regressive return to his previous defensive pattern of behavior: to his orientation on glorious actions to feel strong, not vulnerable, and ahead of this “stupid” adult world.


Francois is not just throwing the cat from the upper floor of the apartment building – he is intuitively involved in an “experiment” about relations between life, separation and death. He tries to understand how death is connected with separation (he, unconsciously, identifies simultaneously with the doomed cat and his parents).


Francois creates accident on the highway as if he is playing violent video-game…


… and triumphs over the world of adults.
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Conservative societies are incompatible with children’s psyche. They try to subdue the adventurous nature of children’s imagination by disciplinary drills and co-opt it into dream about military and heroic success. Today’s mass society of consumption and playing with technical toys is the latest ploy to assimilate children’s need for change without changing anything. Pialat lets us see over Francois’s bed the giant posters of Hollywood super-heroes and guns of grotesque sizes. Children are the ultimate argument for societal change, but this change never happens.

The main point of contestation between adults and children is the question of keeping the existing values and norms intact or, conversely, changing it toward more innovations and versatility. Conservative mentality cannot surrender this point and agree with change. It prefers to either subdue (conservative variant) or to take out of social space into private space (liberal variety) all the attempts to modify life. Francois tries to love his foster parents and is grateful to them but as Pialat points it out it is not enough to save him from delinquency (from criminal modes of self-realization).

Foster parents don’t consider that they care about children who are already badly traumatized and suspicious, that abandoned children are not just were abandoned but were traumatized by this. Once abandoned the child expects to be abandoned again and again. Francois repeats the situation of abandonment, for example, using the pet animal as himself and himself as his parents he tries to understand what his parents felt abandoning him. He kills a cat without any intention to kill – he just wanted to know how it feels to doom a poor dependent creature. He steals to recover from the new adults what he has lost in his own parents. But he already tries to persuade himself that he doesn’t need anything that belongs to adults. He is strong; he doesn’t need adults at all. He smashes the watch he just stole, like he felt smashed when he became abandoned.

The violence Francois returns to the world is the one he felt directed at him by the very fact of his abandonment. His violence is without aggression – it is just his metaphor of abandonment, his image of what abandonment is. His distrust towards new parents takes a form of as if unmotivated resistance and this creates a new abandonment by people who feel desperate that they cannot help the child.

It is not enough to love a child to become a role model for this child’s ability to love. It is necessary to create bonds by using symbolic space to establish perceptual and emotional rapport between the child and the adult. The grandmother of the second foster family in Pialat’s film was able to create unique bonds with Francois by reading/explaining to him texts he was able to understand, by singing with him together, by emotionally giving herself to him instead of putting herself as a mentor. Her death reactivated his trauma of separation. By losing her he as if again lost his first attachment – his real parents, with devastating consequences for his destiny.

Child has a right for minor transgressions because they are his experiments with what is possible and what is impossible inside relations of love and compassion. These experiments are not transgressions at all – they are “investigations” of objective reality that includes the parental reactions. The inflamed responses on child’s transgressions are, for the child’s mind, the proof that he/she is not loved. Moralistic and punitive responses confirm child’s feeling of being refused (abandoned) and makes his behavior more severe and extreme.

The child’s violence can easily be triggered by the surrounding that is symbolically rather than existentially, violent. For example, observing highway with its anonymity, heavy constructions and incessant movements of cars, can trigger violent reactions. Highway is perceived by the child as violent video-game inviting his violent actions. Francois identifies with the dehumanized condition of the highway. He as if impersonates the highway with his action that created car accident. In his unconscious highway is a life form without any humanity.
A child is not just somebody who joins the life of the adults. It is also a meaning seeking creature. You have to be retarded to learn human happiness from the wedding ceremony in “L’Enfance Nue” or in Pasolini’s “Mamma Roma” (1962). Francois resists learning from this artificial happiness. He likes to secretly laugh at adults. He morbidly calculates. The adults simplemindedly fall into the trap. They are stupid exactly where he is smart. Their naiveté and generosity correspond to Francois’ canniness. Situation with the shoe is an illustration of how a child’s self-hurting calculation meets adult’s credulous and awkward desire to help. Francois cannot allow himself to get – his game is to loose, like he was lost (abandoned). By “losing” his shoe he is unconsciously, again and again repeating his trauma like a soldier trapped in the PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). With hate he has for himself as a “poor present” his parents refused, he is getting rid of his shoe while lying to his foster parents that he lost it, and he made them to retrieve it for him. His triumph over their inability to think compensates him for his masochistic self-refutation. His very sophistication is self-negating and self-torturing. In this incident we see the very mechanism of criminal behavior.

If only Francois had a chance to communicate with a child psychoanalyst! But even a democratic society has less and less money for providing this kind of contact. Mental illness and criminality are much cheaper to address than the educational, cultural and psychotherapeutic needs. By trying to repeat and through this to master the situation of his trauma, Francois plays mentally one game – of his traumatic abandonment that he models on in his relations with foster parents, his peers and things. Now he himself can refuse love and care, like he was refused once.

Francois’ violence is not violence – it is, in its psychological essence, a preventive refusal to accept what before pushed him away with such power, it is a violent pushing back what before betrayed him by abandoning him. There is no hate in Francois; there is only an innocent desire to protect himself from the danger of loving (and bonding with) other human beings. He feels friendly to the peers only if self-denial is involved – for example, masochistic self-hurting in him or another kids like self-mutilation or inserting cigarette into the mouth with its burning end. Francois‘violent behavior is not the desire to hurt. It is a desperate attempt not to be hurt through the compulsive refutation of love.

By making Francois, the physically abandoned child, the hero of the film, Pialat makes a point about the universality of child-neglect in today’s world: emotional, intellectual, educational neglect, by parents and society in general. Today the especially technologically resourceful form of child neglect is the abandoning children to video games – to the perception of the world in terms of game, not in terms of rapport with other human beings.


Maurice Pialat

Posted on Jan 7, 2015 –   “L’Enfance Nue” (1968) By Maurice Pialat  by Acting-Out Politics