At first sight the short film Redd Barna can be understood as an endearing little film about children and their childish ways, but as will become clear below, this is not so.
The film can be divided into two sequences: the children's lottery outside the petrol station, and the discussion inside the petrol station shop between the children and the attendant Lasse. The establishing shot shows a petrol station and next to it a primitive stall made of cardboard boxes where two children, a girl and her little brother Tarald, are selling lottery tickets. They implore a number of the petrol station customers to buy tickets with the prospect of winning toys and things of their own making - the purpose being, according to the girl, partly to help blind children in Africa, partly to help her buy a guide dog, as apparently she is blind or weak sighted. Several customers try their luck - most without any - shown in time-shortening ellipses with non-diegetic energetic music.
A long shot from the other side of the road indicates that the first sequence is about to end. The children decide to close their lottery and they enter the petrol station shop in order to ask the attendant to count the money and also to turn the sale of the day, 453 Norwegian kroner, into candy. Lasse, the attendant, complains about the purpose of the lottery having changed, and a discussion with the girl follows. She returns his money for the three tickets that he bought earlier on, and upon reflection the children decide to spend 30 kroner on a birthday present for their father (a small can of petrol), about 400 kroner on candy - and put the remaining 3 kroner into a collection box for a charity, the name of which I unfortunately was unable to discern on my video copy of the film.
The film language of this short is rather traditional: obviously, one finds high angle shots of the children seen from an adult's p.o.v. as well as low angle shots of the adults from the children's p.o.v., but in addition there are many eye-level shots of the two children, displaying the film's solidarity with them (as Godard says, every camera angle is a question of morals). Only one high angle shot inside the shop showing both Lasse and the children seems unmotivated and superfluous; it was probably only included to bring variation into the film language since it does not add anything new to the narrative.
Humour and surprise
Beyond demonstrating its solidarity with the children, the strength of the film lies in its humour and surprises. Already in the scene with the first customer we are surprised to see that at least one of the girl's eyes is defective - and we are at once filled with sympathy and compassion. And when we learn about the purpose of the lottery our sympathy knows no boundaries. We are surprised at the high price of the tickets (50 kroner), but we readily dismiss this as the children's unrealistic and immature understanding of big numbers and money - indeed, it increases their charm and entrepreneurial spirit (many parents have undoubtedly experienced having been forced to buy loads of tickets at lotteries run by their offspring during dull summer holidays when no one outside the family was interested in trying their luck).
During the next sequence, which takes place in the shop, we are surprised at the turnout of the lottery - 453 kroner is objectively seen an impressive amount of money. And now follows the most surprising ellipsis of the film: hardly has Lasse counted the money and declared the amount of 453 kroner, and the girl politely thanked him, than we get a close-up shot of a shopping basket, filled to the brim with all kinds of candy, suddenly being flung onto the counter directly towards the camera with a unique singleness of purpose. Our growing doubts about the true purpose of the lottery calls the children's impressive determination in question (we have already begun to suspect mischief when the younger brother fixes his eyes on the candy on the nearby shelves while Lasse is counting the money - but this we have ascribed to his tender age).
Next comes the discussion between Lasse and the girl about the new purpose of the money collection - and in her childish but partly logical way she actually charms us into accepting her arguments by her distorted sense of proportion; furthermore, Lasse does not argue very well for his case and to boot she readily returns the money he spent on three tickets earlier on. In addition, the children do not seem to be completely governed by selfishness, as they also want to buy their father a birthday present. True, the small can of petrol appears to be a meagre present, but this "clumsy" choice actually only increases our liking for them. Similarly, the 3 kroner put into the collection box definitively shuts up Lasse, and as a last humorous surprise Lasse begins to experience visual disturbances - in other words, he begins to see things in the same way as the girl. This peculiarity may be underlined by the fact that she turns her head towards him while leaving the shop. (Since Redd Barna is part of a compilation movie, Folk Flest Bor I Kinat, in which Lasse and his story functions as a frame story, my last assumption about his growing blindness is not necessarily correct seen in the context of the compilation as a whole.)
Fremskrittspartiet/The Progressive Party
In the first establishing shot where the title Redd Barna is displayed, yet another title emerges written in smaller letters, Fremskrittspartiet, the presence of which lends a totally different meaning to the film. The compilation film is thus actually a political film in which each individual short is a satirical commentary on each of the Norwegian parties at the "Storting" (parliamentary) election in 2001. Admittedly, my knowledge of Norwegian politics is rather limited, but I shall nevertheless venture the following observations.
For Danes, the name of Fremskrittspartiet (FrP) brings to mind the Danish political party bearing a similar name (Fremskridtspartiet), but a Norwegian colleague of mine has stressed that even though there are many similarities, the Norwegian variety of xenophobia is less pronounced than the Danish one so blatantly practised by the founder of the party, Mogens Glistrup, and the present leader of its splinter group, Pia Kjærsgaard. Also, people in Norway traditionally give more generously to charities and relief organizations than Danes.
That Lasse, playing the role of a typical Norwegian, is an attendant at a petrol station (Statoil) is of course quite amusing in Denmark, the Danes being envious of the Norwegian oil riches (cf. the myth of Per Hækkerup and the bottle of whisky, which is said to be displayed in a glass case in the Norwegian Ministry of Oil and Energy). This comic element would not necessarily be considered amusing in Norway.
Self-interest and ultra-liberalistic egoism, underlined by the shot of the children contentedly munching on their candy while Lasse is filling the petrol can with petrol, makes a Dane think of the fact that Glistrup proudly announced that although he had a high income as a lawyer, he paid zero in income tax. According to FrP's party programme, its main aim is to considerably reduce taxes and duties, and to ensure less governmental interference in people's finances.
The girl's argumentation, which at first seemed charmingly childish, is now exposed to scathing criticism from the political point of view: FrP pretends to have an objectively good purpose, which is seriously betrayed (FrP politicians are liars), and their argumentation is devoid of compassion for destitute foreigners ("there are so many of them, so a few bucks aren't worth the trouble - they do live in Africa, and that's how it is - after all, the climate is warm in Africa, so why bother too much"). FrP offers small, very small, presents to those closest to them (the father's present), but only 3 kroner to a charity. According to the party programme, FrP is against development aid being a compulsory governmental measure.
The fact that FrP's "spokeswoman" is a blind child, and her constant support (the brother) is a dependent and totally loyal child whose most frequent remark is "No" is utterly scathing. A comment by a Norwegian journalist on the Internet even suggests that the two children might be modelled after two of FrP's (parliamantary) members - a suggestion that I am unable to verify.
In brief, the children's disarming childishness so aptly sugars the sharp satire - in an admirable Aristophanic way - that our main impression is still humorous, but the film also gives food for thought.
NB: At the latest "Storting" (parliamentary) election in 2001, FrP received 14.6% of the votes. With twenty-six members in "Stortinget", the highest representation in the history of the party, it became the third largest political party in Norway.
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