|A FilmExposed Film Review
Dir: Duco Tellegen, 2004, Japan/Kenya/Belarus, 83 mins, Subtitles
Three short documentaries about young people facing pivotal moments in their lives, Living Rights provides a moving and sensitive illustration of the need for a UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Yoshi is a Japanese teenager with Asperger's Syndrome, who has recently been moved from a regular high school to a special school for those with mental disability, and who passionately campaigns to return to his old life. Toti is a Massai teenager who ran away from her tribe when she was eleven to escape being married off in exchange for cattle. Lena is a twelve year old living in Belarus with a brain tumour she developed after exposure to Chernobyl fallout, forced to decide whether she should stay with her foster mother or go to live in Italy with a family who want to adopt her.
Each story is prefaced by a different quotation from the 1989 UNICEF Convention, highlighting issues of education, culture and healthcare. But although they were originally conceived as three segments of a six part television series, the films that have come together to make up Living Rights do not feel like a mélange. They complement each other perfectly, demonstrating with understated elegance the universality of human experience.
The camerawork sparkles throughout. The two cinematographers involved have different styles; Peter Brugman's work in Japan and Belarus characterised by a passive stillness and restraint, while Danny Elsen's Kenyan segment is more fluid and dynamic - 'More poetical,' Director Duco Tellegen calls it. Yet throughout all three films the photography remains unobtrusive and transparent, casting a non-judgmental eye on the lives of children who have all in different ways been judged unfavourably by those who surround them.
Tellegen himself happily admits that in researching his documentaries he was specifically looking for stories that would play well on screen, and it is certainly true that the tales told here are gripping and compelling. But there is no easy resolution or neat tying together of loose ends. And while one could accuse the filmmaker of editing his footage maybe a little too selectively - for example we never see the attacks of rage that originally forced Yoshi to change school - he does afford his subjects a dignity that one imagines they are rarely awarded elsewhere.
The resulting tone is not dissimilar to that of Être et Avoir, albeit focusing on children with fewer opportunities and a more uncertain future. Tellegen allows the humanity of his subjects to shine through, as often in protracted silence as when they are talking. To be shown Lena and her school friends being taught how to use a Geiger counter to measure radioactivity, or to see Yoshi explain his frustration and indignation through painstakingly drawn cartoons, is to travel across the world to three different continents and see the same children that live across the road from you. Recommended.
Living Rights was shown as part of the Human Rights Watch International Film Festival 2005.