Others may have different takes on his style, but to my way of thinking, François Truffaut was essentially a novelist who used film frames instead of words, because his best films combine innovative film techniques with traditional literary devices to convey painful and sweet truths about the human condition. As such, Truffaut’s work was often best when he locked into the perspective of a unique protagonist or, as in the case of romantic-triangle stories, an interlocked group of protagonists. Perhaps that’s why Small Change didn’t work for me. In addition to being a gimmick picture, since all the major characters are children, it’s an ensemble movie without a strong overarching storyline. To belabor the analogy to fiction writing, Small Change is like a set of loosely connected stories rather than the unified statement of a novel. Some of the picture’s vignettes are interesting, whether funny or sad or a combination of both sensations, while others make less of an impact. But the lack of truly complicated characters—an occupational hazard when exploring the lives of people whose personalities have not yet fully formed—means that Truffaut can’t really do what he does best. That said, even mediocre Truffaut is better than the finest work lesser filmmakers can render.
Tracking the loosely connected lives of several children who attend a school in Thiers, France, Small Change—originally titled L’argent de poche, or Pocket Money—has moments of great humanity. The subplot of a poor child hiding the truth about his life in an abusive household is handled with sensitivity, and the subplot of a wide-eyed boy nurturing a crush on his friend’s sexy mom is playful and restrained. Perhaps most interesting scenes are those depicting the adventures of a boy who must aid in his paralyzed father’s caretaking. Yet some moments seem like clips from another movie. In one such scene, an infant climbs onto a windowsill to chase after a cat, and then several bystanders watch in horror from several stories below as the child tumbles from the window. The resolution of the scene makes zero sense dramatically or logically, although it sorta-kinda serves Truffaut’s theme about the resilience of children as compared to the selfishness and stupidity of adults. Small Change isn’t a bad picture by any measure, and some viewers will undoubtedly find it affecting and unique. For me, Small Change came across like a rhythm in search of a melody—I felt too strongly the absence of a distinctive central character, whose journey might have given clarity and focus to the picture’s meandering episodes.
Small Change: FUNKY