When people think about Disney, the first things leaping to mind tend to be princesses, superheroes, or Jedi knights. But a corporate behemoth with such deep pockets can also afford to venture out beyond the safe realm of franchising to throw some money around where it goes a little further, and now they’re bringing a bit of their largesse to the lower-profile international market.
The Italian-made short film Le Pupille will be available through Disney+ starting 16 December, an unlikely if widely accessible home for the latest work from arthouse favorite Alice Rohrwacher. Photographed with a combination of 16mm and 35mm formats, the 37-minute homage to Zero for Conduct and other unruly-child classics may seem an odd fit for the Mouse’s streaming platform, but the seasonal angle will nonetheless place it alongside the rest of their Yuletide-themed content.
Le Pupille was conceived as part of a series of Christmastime shorts commissioned by Disney and produced through Alfonso Cuarón, a fan of Rohrwacher’s who figured that her experience working with children would make her an ideal fit for the kiddie-beloved studio. And while her project does indeed feature holiday merriment and apple-cheeked youngsters, it’s also an irreverent perspective on the emptiness of conventional Christian pieties.
The short — adapted from a letter penned by the celebrated writer Elsa Morante — joins a gaggle of students over a lonely Christmas they’ve all got no choice but to spend at their boarding school. As they stage their own little nativity play, they also introduce a bit of anarchy to the stuffy environment of grown-up authority, reminding us all of the childlike spirit that’s supposed to animate a holiday rooted in belief.
For parents trying to get their offspring hooked on cinema outside the English language, Rohrwacher’s newest is an early gift, proof that youth-friendly filmmaking can exist outside the bright, loud, excitable register of G-rated US exports. For some, it could be their first time seeing something shot on analog film — and isn’t creating memories to be cherished for the rest of a child’s life what Christmas is really about?
Published 29 Nov 2022
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