The reality of life for many kids at school is explored with a distressing honesty in “Playground,” writer / director Laura Wandel‘s debut feature film. The issue of bullying and all the complexities that accompany it are presented from the viewpoint of the children who are experiencing it. It’s a film that may cause anxiety to those who remember what it was like during their formative years.
The film tells the story of 7-year-old Nora (Maya Vanderbeque) and her big brother Abel (Günter Duret), who are finding it difficult to adjust to their new school. One afternoon, Nora sees her sibling being violently bullied by the other kids. She immediately rushes to his aid, and wants to help protect him by telling their caring father. Abel forces her to stay silent and not draw any attention to his predicament, even while he endures further (and more severe) harassment at school.
There’s a hierarchy to be respected on the playground, a children’s community that comes with certain expectations and order. Much like prison, it doesn’t end well for snitches. Not wanting to make a bad situation even worse, Nora must learn to tolerate and accept the pain and suffering that is being forced upon her brother. She remains tight-lipped in order to survive the schoolyard.
It’s a shocking display of the power that peer pressure has to influence young minds, and an even more disturbing (and sadly, realistic) look at the adults who fail to offer adequate protection and safety. Even when a teacher witnesses a fight or is told that something terrible is happening, their response is pathetic and hardly supportive. The film exposes not only the cruelty that kids can display towards each other, but also the negligence of grown ups who ignore their very real problems.
“Playground” is not an easy film to watch, but it’s an important one. Few have so accurately captured how children interact with each other at school, without glossing over the intense levels of emotional and physical abuse that’s dished out by their peers.