God Bless the Child screens on Friday at 7 p.m., Saturday at 10 a.m. and April 19 at 4 p.m. as part of RiverRun International Film Festival in Winston-Salem. Directors Robert Machoian and Rodrigo Ojeda-Beck will be in attendance for all screenings, which take place at A/perture 1.
by Jordan Green
God Bless the Child thrusts the viewer into a world where adults exist, for the most part, only peripherally — as targets of insults and objects of fear as potential agents of authority.
From the opening scene of a partially clothed young boy performing backflips before dawn on a backyard trampoline, the viewer is left with the vexatious impression that injury could transpire at any moment. And when a car screeches out of the driveway — presumably driven by the mother, based on the imploring cry of the boy — the anxiety only ratchets higher.
The feature film follows five siblings, ranging in age from about 15 down to 2, in Davis, Calif. who play themselves. Apparently without scripting, they carry on with the kind of activities that are typical of home life, only without the presence of adults — boxing, washing the dogs, walking a greenway and playing soccer in the park.
Covering the span of a day, the 92-minute film moves at roughly 10 times the speed of life, but considering that viewers have become conditioned to experience a lifetime in a standard-length feature, the action seems painstakingly slow. That only enhances the sense that a lot can go wrong, whether it might be an 8-year-old getting a broken arm or toddler being snatched up by a stranger.
The relaxed pacing of the film is not the only element utilized by directors Robert Machoian and Rodrigo Ojeda-Beck in service of cinematic naturalism; the effect is completed by casual dialogue that sometimes verges on inaudible and framing from a child’s height that leaves the rare adults who intrude on the storyline headless or oversized.
Despite the absence of adults and the fact that the mother is never seen onscreen, she still makes an impression as a volatile, unpredictable force. Through a cell-phone message left by Harper, the older sister, viewers come away with the distinct impression that this is not the first time the mother has disappeared, and the question of whether she’s coming back hangs over the storyline.
It’s Harper, a teenager with blue and purple hair, who provides the family’s tenuous stability. And her character is richly rendered through her private moments of worry and front of good humor and cool before her younger siblings. Between bathing her toddler sibling and awkwardly flirting with a boy while her baby brother wanders unattended in a park, it’s clear that she has far more on her plate than any teenager deserves.
God Bless the Child, dir. Robert Machoian and Rodrigo Ojeda-Beck, 92 min., 2014