In Cambridge in the 1930s and 1940s, Ludwig Wittgenstein loved going to “the flicks”—any films at all, provided they were not self-consciously starry or arty or (worst of all) posh-literary. His ideal was the run-of-the mill American western. He liked it because the actors, like the horses, seemed to get on with being themselves rather than putting on an act for the sake of the camera.
Westerns are not what they used to be, but in the past few years a new form has made a space for itself in world cinema. It would have fitted Wittgenstein’s requirements perfectly: the children’s film. I don’t mean high-budget glitz like the Harry Potter films, but the kinds of children’s films that are exhibited every year in the cheap and wonderful Kinder Berlinale, which runs in parallel with the annual Berlin Film Festival.
This year’s Kinder Berlinale happened to coincide with last week’s English school holidays, and it provided a fabulous banquet of education and entertainment for a little band of ten-year-olds, plus me. Gattu, which tells the story of a poor orphan in an Indian city who wants to fly a kite, struck a chord with all of us; Punch was a bit more challenging, with its tale of a boy who battles with violence and discrimination in a school in Seoul; but we were soothed by Mustafa’s Sweet Dreams, in which an apprentice baklava-maker from rural Turkey seeks his fortune in Istanbul. Isdraken was sharp and funny, with its focus on a bunch of kids in northern Sweden and their battles with social services; and there was melancholy beauty in The Mirror Never Lies which depicts the anguish of a little girl in an Indonesian fishing village who cannot come to terms with the death of her father.