If you don’t remember the killing fields of the seventh grade, Welcome to the Dollhouse is a reminder. Todd Solondz‘ movie opens in the Theater of Cruelty of the junior high school cafeteria, where finding somewhere to sit, and people who will let you sit with them, has all the shivery dread of being lost in a police state without ID. The camera slowly circles around eleven-year-old Dawn Weiner (Heather Matarazzo), standing there holding her tray and surveying the combat zone, her bespectacled face a knot of huddled horror. You’ve been there.
The semi-autobiographical French New Wave landmark The 400 Blows by François Truffaut is as potent a vehicle for an adult’s autobiographical ruminations as it is a guide to the new adolescent’s storming terrain. Watch Jean-Pierre Léaud as he watches grown-ups, steals happiness in their absence, and warily regards the world that grates against him at every turn.
The Jean Vigo mini-masterpiece Zéro de Conduite is a vivid snapshot of grade school rebelliousness—you may’ve forgotten what it was like to spitball a teacher in fifth grade, or what it felt like to want to, but this visionary little gem jacks you into that universal spirit in no time flat, and at the same time it acts out your craziest pre-adolescent wishes of ridiculous chaos.
Like a Little Rascals episode writ large and filmed by a meticulous genius, this silent Japanese film by Yasujiro Ozu views the world of two prepubescent brothers from three feet off the ground, as they struggle with the playground hierarchy in their neighborhood and discover, in horror, that their office-worker father is subjugated by the same conflicts. Because Ozu was always concerned with perspective and observation above all things, I Was Born, But… focuses on the real give-and-take of being a boy, and being eight years old.