A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this movie is intense but family-friendly. Sensitive and younger kids might be disturbed by beatings and a shooting at the labor camp, which are are strongly hinted but not directly shown. Also, protesters clash with police and David is given a bloody nose by an older boy, who later apologizes.
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What's the story?
Adapted from Ann Holm's book, I AM DAVID follows the story of the titular David, who grows up in a Bulgarian labor camp in the 1950s. He doesn't know why he is there or what happened to his family, of whom he has only flashes of memory. At the age of twelve an escape is arranged for him (by whom and for what reasons are only revealed near the end of the movie), and he is told to make his way alone across the frontier with Greece, south to Salonika, stow away in a boat headed for Italy, and then head north to Denmark. David travels alone through a world he has never experienced, following the only advice he was given: "Trust no one." Along the way, as he evades capture, meets people, and begins to understand how the world works, his past is revealed in rapid flashbacks of memory, centering on a pivotal event in the camp, more and more details of which are revealed as the movie progresses.
Is it any good?
This is a lovely movie, beautifully filmed by Paul Feig in locations throughout Europe. The real problem faced by anyone trying to adapt this very interior book (see our review of North to Freedom) is finding a boy who can carry it off, and newcomer Ben Tibber portrays David with a heartbreakingly bleak and lonely nobility. He actually has few lines, so he accomplishes this primarily through posture and a remarkably readable face. Jim Caviezel does sterling work as Johannes, the only friend David has ever had; and Joan Plowright is warmly touching as Sophie, an elderly artist David meets along the way. Feig, who also wrote the script, partially solves central flaw in the book (where the plot turns on a huge and unlikely Dickensian coincidence) by turning it into a smaller, but still unlikely, coincidence.
But the movie is not without its own flaws, chief among them its too-short length (90 minutes), which leaves too much unexplained or missing entirely. The DVD contains many deleted scenes that should have been left in. Nevertheless, this is a thoughtful, intellectually and emotionally rich, and gently beautiful movie that, while aimed at children, doesn't for one moment condescend to them. It's a solid and moving attempt at filming a wonderful, but almost unfilmable classic children's book.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the communist bloc in the 50s, forced labor camps in eastern Europe after WWII, the plight of refugees, and following David's route on a map. The DVD provides helpful extras, including a map of David's route and information about real-life modern child refugees. Families can also talk about the DVD's extras, including a map of David's route and information about real-life modern child refugees.
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