________________ CM . . . . Volume XIII Number 18 . . . . April 27, 2007

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Aruba.

Hubert Davis (Writer & Director). David Miller, Sam McLaren & Hubert Davis (Producers).
Montreal, PQ: National Film Board of Canada, 2005.
11 min., VHS or DVD, $99.95.
Order Number: 153C 9105 327.

Grades 7 & up / Ages 12 & up.

Review by Jocelyn A. Dimm.

**** /4

In an opening close-up, the viewer watches as blood drips down from the open mouth of a young boy as he kneels on the cement ground of a city school yard. In the background, dull high-rises interrupt the yellowish sky of the urban landscape. The boy is being bullied by four of his class mates after school. All the boys are around 11 or 12 years of age, and, as the camera draws back, one of the bullies lands a kick to the side of the boy’s face before the four of them wander off. Without tears, retaliation, or even words, the boy picks himself up and moves on.

     At home, the camera scans through the rooms: the boy sits with a bag of frozen peas held up against his face; his mother lays in bed and smokes; in the kitchen a man (obviously not the boy’s father) sorts through small bags of drugs and loads a handgun.

     This film reflects the diversity of worlds and cultures that are a part of the inner city, choosing to highlight the effects of poverty, violence, and abuse on one urban family. The power of the film lies in its reliance on the visual narrative and limited dialogue that allows viewers to bring their thoughts and feelings to the images; especially to that of the young protagonist who never talks but lets the language of his actions speak for themselves.

     There are three locations in this short film that hold significance for the young boy – the school, the neighbourhood convenience store, and his home. Each place presents him with a different way in which to view the world. The classroom teacher keeps a jar of coins on the desk, and she tells the children they are to raise money to help poor people in another country whose lives are constantly threatened; the owner of the convenience store serves the boy one last time before she packs up and moves to a better neighbourhood; and, at home, his mother’s boyfriend sells drugs to keep them going. In each place, there is a dichotomy for the boy between how things should be and his reality: at school, the boy is bullied; at home, his mother is beaten; and his corner store haven is about to disappear forever. The owner of the store says she has something for him, and she gives him a postcard of Aruba. Symbolically, the postcard from Aruba represents for the boy the promise of escape and a better life.

     In this pivotal moment, the boy begins to see beyond his immediate circumstances, beyond his world as it exists. He instigates change without ever resorting to the violence of the world around him. When the jar of money disappears from his classroom, the bully is accused first, but a search of his backpack reveals no coins. Instead, the teacher finds, tucked within the bully’s backpack, the drug dealer’s handgun. When the police arrive at the family’s apartment to question the boyfriend, they find a substantial amount of drugs, and he is arrested.

     In the closing scene, the mother enters her son’s bedroom where he is sitting on his bed leaning back on the wall, reading a book. She lays down beside her son, places her head on his side, and together they rest peacefully. The postcard of Aruba is taped to the wall by the bedroom door.

     Aruba, the Panavision Grand Jury award winner and an official selection for the Sundance film festival of 2006, is a provocative introduction to a discussion on many topics including bullying, poverty, drug abuse, domestic violence, and the struggles of many inner-city children. A study guide is available online at www.nfb.ca/guides.

Highly Recommended.

Jocelyn A. Dimm is a sessional instructor and PhD Candidate at the University of Victoria where she teaches drama education and young adult literature in the Faculty of Education.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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