François Truffaut started collecting tales from and about children since he made The 400 Blows and used them in this film, including the story of his first kiss. The main kid is the motherless Patrick Desmouceaux (Geory Desmouceaux) and his friend Julien Leclou (Philippe Goldmann), who is dealing with abuse at home. Yet most of the movie is episodic, with kids getting in trouble, learning about love, going on dates, watching a cat in peril, bad haircuts and yes, that first kiss.
It ends with Julien’s abuse becoming known to all and a teacher telling the students, “Of all mankind’s injustices, injustice to children is the most despicable! Live isn’t always fair, but we can fight for justice. It’s the only way. It’s a slow process, but we do move forward. All people with power like to claim they are impervious to threats. But they do give in to pressure. A show of strength is the only way to get results. Adults understand that and they obtain what they ask for by demonstrating. I want to show that when adults are determined they can improve their lot. But children’s rights are totally ignored. Political parties are not concerned. With kids like Julien or you. Do you know why? Because children don’t vote! If kids had the right to vote, they would have better schools and sports facilities. You would get them because the politicians need your vote. You could come to school an hour later in winter instead of rushing out before daylight. I also want to say, because of my own childhood, I feel kids deserve a better deal. That is why I became a school teacher. Life isn’t easy. You must steel yourselves to face it. I don’t mean ‘hard-boiled’. I am talking about endurance and resilience. Some of us, who had a difficult childhood are better equipped for adult life than those who were overprotected by love. It’s the law of compensation. Life may be hard, but it’s also wonderful. When we are confined to the sickbed, we cannot wait to get out and enjoy life. We sometimes forget how much we really love it. Time flies. Before long, you will have children of your own. If you love them, they will love you. If they don’t feel you love them, they will transfer their love and tenderness to other people. Or to things. That’s life! Each of us needs to be loved!”
The translation of this movie’s French title L’Argent de poche is Pocket Money, but it was Steven Spielberg who came up with this title. He also directed Truffant in Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
This movie feels like childhood does, small moments that begin to add up, many faces and friends finally giving way to one set group of friends and eventually, when you grow old and look back, memories. As I read back on that speech above, I see so much honesty in it.
How amazing that again, Roger Corman was the one to release this in America. There was even a paperback of the script, which Truffaut wrote with Suzanne Schiffman.