Small Change

Movie review by
Charles Cassady Jr., Common Sense Media
Small Change Movie Poster Image
Gentle French coming-of-age film is best for teens and up.
  • PG
  • 1976
  • 104 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

A character proposes that small children exist in a "state of grace," and so can endure calamities ranging from accidental falls to troubled home lives. Still, the injuries sustained by Julien, the abused kid, are not brushed off lightly. Strong takes-a-village-to-raise-a-child sense of the community coming together in defense of an at-risk boy. Unlike trendy, youth-pandering Hollywood flicks, there's a sense of teachers and students being real friends, not just mentors-disciples or outright enemies.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Realistic, non-idealized characters (though single moms tend to seem distracted or worse). Julien, from the impoverished section of town, is a thief and a poor student, but the script doesn't deduct points from his humanity, and the town cares about him despite his lowly status. Asians are represented among the ethnic mix of the community. One of the parents is disabled.


A child takes a tumble from a high apartment railing, without injury. A child is abused, but the violence isn't shown.


A young mother breastfeeds. Boys spy on a nude woman. Eroticized females in negligees, mainly shown from the rear, in a backdrop movie poster. A suggestion of premarital sex/pregnancy in a newsreel discussing American G.I.s and French girls in WWII (that same newsreel inspires some experimental smooching among kids in the audience). A boy tells a dirty joke involving a priest and a nun.


"Ass," "hell," "bastard," one-time uses of the S- and F-word (or the French equivalents).

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Social drinking. A boy innocently brings a bottle of wine to a hungry girl.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this tender, realistic look at childhood includes little boys telling dirty jokes and spying on a naked woman. A new mother is shown breastfeeding. There is some harsh language near the end, when a police raid uncovers a child-abuse case (no violence, though). Don't-try-this-at-home juvenile behavior includes shoplifting, doing DIY haircuts on friends, and fooling around on high window ledges. One character is a single mother who describes her abandonment by her husband. Grownups drink; youngsters don't -- yet. Some material is very specific to French culture (like a bit of song by the legendary singer-composer Charles Trenet). The movie has subtitles.

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What's the story?

In the French town of Thiers, teachers, parents, and kids are practically neighbors in a close-knit community surrounding the local elementary school (one that's not yet gone co-ed, though change is on the horizon). One teacher, Monseiur Richet, is especially popular with the boys in his class. His wife is pregnant with their first child, and M. Richet keeps his students updated. One of the kids, Laurent, nurtures a crush on a single mom of a classmate, but nothing comes of it (unlike the teen sex comedies that Hollywood would be spewing out in later decades). Julien is a new boy in school, a ragged urchin and occasional thief (but not a bully; nobody is) who dwells apart from the rest, in a dreadful-looking shanty. The story ends with the discovery that Julien has been hiding ongoing grievous physical abuse by his nasty-looking mother and grandmother, and the schoolchildren and administrators do some soul-searching as he goes into foster care.

Is it any good?

Though the pace is leisurely and the narrative little more than a string of vignettes, viewers can get hooked and feel by the end that they've been a part of this little town. Acclaimed French director Francois Truffaut made The 400 Blows, considered one of the best-ever dramas about painful male adolescence. SMALL CHANGE (actually called "L'Argent de poche," or "Pocket Money") is a less troubling portrayal of childhood, mixing moments of sweetness and comedy (not too far removed from the best of the Little Rascals) with more serious stuff and observations on how kids from toddlers to tweens interact and think. Truffaut cast non-professionals in a lot of the juvenile roles, and the acting quality varies wildly, but not a moment of it feels forced or phony.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the way the kids in the film behave. Discuss with children if they know people like this (including each other).

  • Ask young viewers what movies most remind them of their own lives, in and out of school. Ask if they enjoy filmmaker Francois Truffaut's natural, realistic style -- or do they prefer glossy Hollywood Spy Kids escapism and sitcom-clever scripting when looking at kids on film?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love school stories

Themes & Topics

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