Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Enthusiastically received by young audiences around the world, Kauwboy is a children's film made with a child's eye. Fast-paced, impulsive and immersive, it's the story of a boy living in difficult circumstances whose life is transformed by friendship with an injured jackdaw. Though narratively it has a lot in common with Kes, tonally it couldn't feel more different.

Rick Lens is Jojo, living in an uneasy relationship with his father (Loek Peters) as they both struggle to cope with his mother's absence. Their different reactions create a seemingly impassable gulf between them, with the father's dark moods and inclination to drink making the boy distressingly vulnerable. With a child's resilience, however, Jojo finds emotional escape routes. He loves to listen to the music his mother recorded, to tell stories and to run around in the wasteland behind his house. It's there that he finds the bird ('Kauw' in Dutch, for his species, subtitled as 'Jack'), pushed out of the nest. The situation invites sympathy. He takes him home, offers him cabbage and potatoes, shares his bed with him. Soon he is reading up on the responsible care of his new friend. But his father believes that animals and plants belong outside.

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Unlike Kes, this film features no calculated cruelty. The father, for all that he can be aggressive, is not a monster. Jojo is doing okay at school, enjoying sports, and forming a tentatively romantic friendship with new water polo teammate Yenthe (Susan Radder). The underlying tension stems from somewhere more existential, from a fear of mortality to which no one has any answers. Wrapped around this is an awareness of human potential that will console younger viewers and help them to think about difficult issues in the context of what is ultimately, unexpectedly, an uplifting tale.

For all that, it's the telling that really makes this film stand out. Boudewijn Koole's energetic direction perfectly complements the bravura yet naturalistic performance of the young star. The central relationships are deftly explored with little dependence on dialogue. There's a real sense of being there, not only in the same physical spaces but in the same emotional ones. The work with the bird is also superb. There's clearly a real bond between the feathered and human stars, adding an extra layer of intensity to their interactions. If you're taking a young child to see this, beware - they will start asking for a jackdaw of their own before you get them home.

Few children's films succeed in getting as close to the world as children experience it as this one does. It's a masterful piece of work and fantastic family viewing.

Reviewed on: 03 Feb 2013
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A boy with a difficult home life befriends an injured jackdaw.

Director: Boudewijn Koole

Starring: Rick Lens, Loek Peters, Susan Radder, Hüseyin Cahit Ölmez

Year: 2012

Runtime: 81 minutes

Country: Netherlands

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