Childhood and the Second World War in the European fiction film
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The classically idyllic, carefree world of childhood would appear to be diametrically opposed to the horrors of war and world-wide conflict. However, throughout film history, filmmakers have continually turned to the figure of the child as a prism through which to examine the devastation caused by war. This thesis will investigate the representation of childhood experience of the Second World War across six fiction films: Roberto Rossellini’s Paisan (1946) and Germany Year Zero (1947), René Clément’s Forbidden Games (1952), Andrei Tarkovsky’s Ivan’s Childhood (1962), Jan Nemec’s Diamonds of the Night (1964) and Elem Klimov’s Come and See (1985). Spanning forty years, I will examine how these films, whilst sharing many thematic and formal concerns, are unquestionably diverse. They are products of specific socio-cultural milieux, but are also important works in the evolution of cinematic style in art cinema. The films can be aligned to various trends such as neorealism (Paisan, Germany Year Zero), Modernism (Ivan’s Childhood, Diamonds of the Night) and Neo-expressionism (Come and See). Structured in four parts – on witness, landscape, loss and play – I will suggest that just filmmakers utilise childhood experience – often fragmented and chaotic in terms of temporality - to reflect the chaos of war. The first part of my study focuses on the child as witness, the child as Deleuzian seer. I draw on the writings of Gilles Deleuze as well as post-Deleuzian interventions of Tyrus Miller and Jaimey Fisher to argue that whilst Deleuze’s characterization of the child figure as passive is somewhat problematic when applied to the neorealist works, it can, however, be more rigorously applied to Come and See, a film in which, I suggest, the child embodies a much purer form of the Deleuzian seer. In the second part of my study, drawing on the work of Martin Lefebvre and Sandro Bernardi amongst others, I discuss the representation of landscape and its relation to the figure of the child. The third part will examine the representation of loss as well as the symbolic quality of water and its links to the maternal with reference to psychoanalytic theory and the poetry of Rabindranath Tagore. The fourth and final part also draws on psychoanalysis in examining the role of play in the six films with particular reference to the work of D.W Winnicott and Lenore Terr. My study seeks to contribute to the comparatively under-explored subject of the child in film through close analysis of film aesthetics including mise-en-scène, editing, and film sound.