Marketed as a glimpse into the otherwise unknown world of children on their way to school, Sidewalk has moments of joy but otherwise fails to inspire.
Following several children as they make their journeys to school and then back home again at the end of the day, the audience is shown fear, frustration and loneliness, alongside fascination, friendship and fraternity. Some children walk alone, others with friends or family. Some are driven; others catch the bus. Uniting them is their age and ethnicity and little else – other than that many of them are obnoxious.
In planning to make a documentary about a group of primary school-aged children, surely one would choose kids who are even remotely likeable. It is really only the hapless Ben-Zion who evokes any emotion in the audience other than annoyance. His is also the most fleshed out of the vignettes; with his story told in his own words to the camera, and also purely through observation. There are moments of heartbreak watching this poor little guy make his daily trip, and the social challenges he faces.
Apart from Ben-Zion, the other subjects range from a pampered little princess being driven to school by her mother (who acts more as if she is her business agent than her parent), a brother and sister escorting their youngest sibling to kindergarten before going to school themselves, two young friends who must be careful to avoid the Arabs they meet on their path, and a young girl who seems to live in her own world and only comes alive when she finds a horse to visit with. Another young girl who treats her father with no respect whatsoever rounds out the group and provides further opportunity for the audience to be maddened by this motley bunch.
Structured in two halves representing the trips to and from school, Sidewalk is thankfully brief at only 60 minutes. The filmmakers have elicited a lot of honesty and truth from their characters, and in this respect the film is a success. Unfortunately, there are times when the children are all too aware of the presence of the camera crew, and their distraction from their world also takes the viewer out of the world the director is trying to create. Several such occasions, although perhaps unavoidable when so closely following such young children, mean the veracity of the images is lost.
While Sidewalk offers glimpses of what the lives of these children contain, the subjects could perhaps have been more sympathetic, and the number of frankly irritating children reduced. Were it not for poor Ben-Zion, whose story should touch most viewers’ hearts, it would be hard to recommend.Rating: