Bruno is one of many workers striking at a factory, negotiations are not leading anywhere. With his options limited, he takes drastic action and kidnaps the boss’ young son. Cleverly juxtaposing childhood innocence with adult desperation, writer/director Rémi Allier’s César Award winner Les Petites Mains (Little Hands) allows its audience to experience this precarious situation through a unique perspective – that of the young child.
Allier started making movies as a child, and it’s this outlook on life he wishes he could get back. Recalling this time when he questioned everything, without ever fully understanding his surroundings, the filmmaker turned these memories into a strong desire to create a narrative from an infant’s point of view.
As he was also working on a project about an employee fighting to save his factory, the two ideas merged into one. Seeing this kind of abduction storyline through the young child’s eyes feels completely original, especially as the majority of films that tackle this subject tend to tell it from the parent’s perspective.
No stranger to the challenges of working with children (Allier actually wrote a thesis on the subject), the director researched extensively to ensure he portrayed the toddler’s reactions to the unusual experience as realistically as possible. With his narrative, he knew that the audience’s emotional attachment to the baby was paramount, and to trigger that empathy, something tragic had to happen him. Hence the structure of the screenplay, early on when we are with the baby, watching him helpless and oblivious to his predicament, only strengthens our connection to him and much like Bruno we fall for his sweet charms.
Allier also places his camera constantly with the baby, restricting the frame to only what the baby sees. By carefully playing with lights, focal length, choreographing the blocking, we experience what the baby is feeling, down to when he gets distracted by an unexpected thing. The editing is sharp and fast-paced and helps to build the tension and tone of the piece, while the sound editing is extremely precise in recreating the baby’s state of mind.
From a production standpoint, everything revolved around Allier’s youngest cast member. For the most violent moments in his film, Allier had to resort to tricks to be able to shoot without the actor or his double. He made sure Jan Hammenecker (Bruno) had plenty of time to build a rapport with his young co-star, so that whilst the on screen situation seems extremely tense for audience, the child actually felt like he was playing in Hammenecker’s arms. To get the crying scene, they had to be constantly ready to film and catch him in one of those grumpy moments that toddlers can be so fond of.
Hammenecker, who has very little dialogue, perfectly expresses the range of emotions caused by his desperation and the horrible thing he did, through facial expressions alone. The moments he share with Emile Moulron Lejeune (the baby) going from tense and uncomfortable, to surprisingly tender and emotional, with Lejeune’s natural innocence adding a very genuine touch to the short.
By being awarded best short film at the 2019 ceremony of the French Academy, Little Hands is now in consideration for the Oscars after a long festival career. Rémi Allier is currently working on his feature debut, with a narrative that will again focus on the world of children.