Friday, 8 June 2007

Film Review: Kidz In Da Hood


Kidz In Da Hood
A film by Catti Edfeldt & Ylva Gustavsson, Sweden, 96 min

As popular imports from Studio Ghibli in Japan have shown (Howl's Moving Castle, Tales from Earthsea...), Australian audiences are keen for alternatives to Hollywood family films. The Sydney and Melbourne Film Festivals have both introduced eagerly anticipated kids' cinema strands in their programs this year, a rare chance to catch intelligent and diverse films from across the globe.

One of these is new Swedish discovery Kids In Da Hood (Förortsungar), the recent winner of five Swedish Oscars (the "Golden Bugs"), including Best Film. This smart coming-of-age drama addresses serious issues while providing plenty of laughs, thrills and even groovy musical numbers along the way.

Kidz In Da Hood tells the engaging story of 9 year-old Amina, an African refugee who has been spending the past three years in the gritty streets of Stockholm with her ailing grandfather. Forced to leave under violent circumstances following the death of her parents, Amina is a bright but sullen child, hoping for the best but resigned to the worst.

Denied a residence permit, Amina and her grandpa have spent their time in hiding, without a permanent home. Things look like they may be looking up when young musician Johan accepts to take them in temporarily. Despite Johan's rock'n roll lifestyle and total inexperience with kids, a strong bond quickly develops with Amina. But things take a turn for the worse when the granfather dies and social services start calling.

Once the very bleak setup is established, Kidz In Da Hood reveals its true colours. Behind the social realism and grim melodrama there's an uplifting action-adventure-musical waiting to break through.

It all starts when Amina hooks up with her neighbour Mirre, a spunky girl with a can-do attitude, and the de-facto leader of a gang of council estate kids with too much time on their hands. Mirre raps about her life the way Johan sings about his. Soon everyone's breaking into a song and dance routine at the first opportunity - from hip hop to tango and back again, the suburbs are alive with the sound of music.

Kidz In Da Hood is about growing up and seeking solidarity, a sense of belonging. Amina finds a father figure in Johan, who realises he's possibly fit to be a dad. She finds a surrogate family in the street-smart kids who rule the neighbourhood. Together may just overcome the odds and win the day.

The film's initial dark tones give way to exciting action sequences and uplifting moments of music and laughter. The kids find time to solve a crime (showcasing their resourcefulness in a thrilling don't-try-this-at-home chase sequence), put on a school musical, and even break Amina out of social services with the help of Elvis impersonators...

Loosely based on the classic 1945 tearjerker Guttersnipes (a poster makes an appearance on Amina's bedroom wall), Kidz In The Hood isn't the most original of stories - and the plot is fairly predictible - but you've got to give it style points.

The film's success lies in its clever and suprisingly harmonious blend of serious drama and playful hijinks. Kidz In Da Hood is a fun film that's unafraid of big ideas. Set in an authentic multicultural council estate, it explores serious issues such as personal responsibility, grief, unemployment and the plight of refugees without resorting to easy sentimentality or heavy-handed didacticism.

Peformances are top-notch, including Gustaf Skarsgård, son of Stellan Skarsgård (Pirates of the Caribbean), who's very convincing as sweet-natured hard-rocker Johan. But it's the kids who steal the show, helped perhaps by the fact that co-director Catti Edfeldt is herself an ex-child actor turned casting director. They take full ownership of their roles and sing their hearts out when needed, contributing to a seriously funky soundtrack.

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Kidz In Da Hood will have its Australian premiere in the Kids' Films strand of the Sydney Film Festival on Monday 11th June at 2:00pm, Greater Union George Street. It will also be screening in the Next Gen strand of the Melbourne International Film Festival later this winter.

In Swedish with english subtitles. Suitable for children aged 10 and above (mild sexual references and mild coarse language). Please note that no person under the age of 15 years is admitted to festival screenings of this film unless in the company of a parent or adult guardian.

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