Morris Engel and Ruth Orkin, city surveyors and child-level filmmakers

The Little Fugitive (1953) is one of those works that his reputation precedes. And owes François Truffaut its status as a key film in modern cinema thanks to a phrase that has remained famous: “Our New Wave would never have happened if the young American Morris Engel had not shown us the way to independent production with his beautiful film, The Little Fugitive. ” Godard himself would have been inspired by Engel’s filming technique for Breathless (1960). In his crystal-clear presentation of the film, which can be found in the bonus box set for the complete set by filmmakers Morris Engel and Ruth Orkin, critic Alain Bergala makes it the missing link between Italian neorealism and the New Wave.

Read the review of “Petit Fugitif” (in February 2009): A rare American film back in theaters in France

Nothing more true, but for the one who would never have seen The Little Fugitive, the work is adorned with a heavy cultural veneer, which can shield its trembling beauty, bursting with innocence. Never watch the film revolutionizing cinema, it has the brilliance of unconsciousness, the featherweight of a gesture held by a childish desire and devoid of an author’s superego. Engel stirs reality like a child in a sandbox digging until it finds a buried treasure – the remains of his own childhood.

A great urban photographer, Morris Engel remains, fundamentally, a kid in love with his city: it is always to her that he pays homage through characters who roam it, rediscover it and celebrate it – always on foot, often armed. in turn from their camera. This is undoubtedly what will hold the attention of the New Wave: the return to a pedestrian experience of the big urban city, an exploration at ground level, which promises the emergence of frail chances and epiphanies.

New York middle class

Shot with 30,000 dollars at the time (around 250,000 euros) and a portable 35mm camera created for the occasion, The Little Fugitive, co-directed with Ruth Orkin and Raymond Abrashkin, follows Joey’s wandering over two days. Because he believes he has killed his brother, the 7-year-old boy fled to Coney Island like Pinocchio on his enchanted island. It is there, in this amusement park frequented by the middle class, that Joey gets lost deliciously. Riding on a pony, rifle shooting, wooden horses, melon and cotton candy, he crosses the frightening dream that every child secretly wishes to live: gorging on sugar, playing until breathless, under the supervision of no one. To finance his stay, Joey collects empty Coke bottles which he brings back to the deposit – each bottle thus relaunches the child’s race, metaphorizes the idea of ​​a “little” cinema, without money or effects, light years from the big Hollywood machine.

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