Edet Belzberg, Sheilah Kitt McKinnon, Michel Negroponte, Jonathan Oppenheim, Alan Oxman, Wolfgang Held
This modern tale ventures below the streets of Bucharest, Romania, to introduce us to five members of a “family” of orphaned, abandoned, or runaway children living in the Piata Victoriei subway station. With ages ranging from nine to midteens, the children beg and steal to buy food and Aurolac, which they sniff to get high. The intimate, cinema verite style allows the children to speak for themselves with striking naturalness, revealing both the horrific conditions of their existence and their uninhibited, distinctive personalities. Cristina uses her rough boyish look to enforce her position as ringleader of the group. Mihai, the most reflective, regrets having left his mother and sister to the whims of his violent father and dreams of a conventional life and family. Ana fled terrible poverty and assumes a motherly role toward Marian, her young brother. Finally, Macarena has lost nearly all sense of herself after four mind-numbing years of homelessness.
In this tough film, reminiscent of black-and-white reportage of the depression, first-time director Edet Belzberg, with a style that is immediate, candid, brutal, and deeply humanistic, tells a riveting, cruel tale of children in Romania at the turn of this millennium. It reflects the larger problem of youth homelessness in the world, children with highly developed skills of survival who are “addicted to the life of the street.” Like Dark Days, the documentary winner of last year’s Film Festival, Children Underground is another disquieting portrait of a homeless community which is trying to survive its own inferno.