(fr) wrote: Out of the 20,000 or so children she tells us live on the streets of Romania, Edet Belzberg has chosen to focus on a group of five that sheltered in the Piata Victorei (Victory Square) underground station in Bucharest. Most prominent are ten-year-old Ana and her eight-year-old brother Marian, both of whom fled their mother's house because she just couldn't feed them and they had to live with a "stepfather" who probably molested them. Twelve-year old Mihai also fled his home, because he says his father beat him (the father says he didn't, he's a good father, who just chained his son to the radiator.) Sixteen-year old Cristina is the gang leader, trying her best to look like a boy to avoid being raped, and the most pathetic member of the group is fourteen-year-old "Macarena", an escapee from a government orphanage who had to be told that she too was born of human parents like the others, and spends her life in a drug-induced haze ("It's like paradise. You dream that you eat.") that slowly leads her to madness. "Children Underground" is about as tough a documentary as I will bear to watch. Without any voiceover or host, it documents the lives of these street urchins, showing them smoking, sleeping on their cartons, begging, spitting at passing underground trains, inhaling the fumes of a silvery paint called Aurolac, beating each other up, carrying about half their weight in six-packs to get a few thousand leus from the underground grocer (when 20,000 leus will buy you a loaf of bread) or just having fun like normal children at the park. Occasionally, a social worker, a nun or a homeless adult will show some kindness to them, but you get the feeling that it is up to them to make the choice to leave the street, because there is no forcing them into the shelters or back home. They have to want it, and they mustn't be so far gone that they can't be rehabilitated at a reasonable cost. The film has its brutal moments, Belzberg never flinching from her position of passive neutrality and documenting beatings, drug abuse and self-mutilation without intervening. But what moved me the most was the humanity and benevolence those kids showed, however disturbed, intoxicated or hardened they may have been. To speak frankly, I'm sure that if I had passed them by in the underground station, I would have seen them as a threat, as stinking little hoboes who were "up to no good", vandalizing property, insulting passers-by and stealing from them (if you don't have the courage to admit this yourself, just reflect on your impression of the unknown girl who kicks Ana in the face.) What the film taught me is that however hostile, hysterical, psychotic or stoned these kids might be at times, they still evinced an incredible amount of affection, decency and even wisdom and piety. My main contention with the film, apart from its policy of neutrality which often manifests itself as criminal neglect, is that despite showing us those kids' potential for good and for happiness, Belzberg argues that it would have been better if they had never lived, while it was clear to me that the problem was not their existence - which remained incredibly valuable however wretched their lives were - but the poverty and the social pathologies that deprived them of their chances of self-fulfilment. In other words, the real culprit was communism, which destroyed the country's economy and crushed the potential for good of the Church, and, as in North Korea and Russia, led to child neglect, parental alcoholism, and the proliferation of orphaned children. It is truly sad that such a movie, which manages to show us the beauty and the hope in those apparently wasted lives, should use the children it teaches us to love as living arguments in favour of abortion, and that all the reviewers of the film should unthinkingly echo that verdict. I wonder what Ana, Marian, Mihai, Macarena and Cristina would have felt if they had been told that Belzberg thought they should never have been born. As for me, I would be less ashamed to be a citizen of a country where 20,000 children visibly live on the streets than I am of belonging to one where ten times as many children are invisibly disposed of every year.