The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane (Nicolas Gessner / Canada-U.S., 1976):

"Adults are obsolete children" (Dr. Seuss). Pippi Longstocking, Our Mother's House and The Bad Seed are curiously amalgamated into the image of the cottage with bodies in the cellar, presided over by Jodie Foster as a burgeoning small-town Emily Dickinson. The girl celebrates her thirteenth birthday by herself with a cake, Martin Sheen as the resident pedophile barges in to welcome her and cop a feel before her steeliness (and threats of an unseen paterfamilias) wills him out. The wintry community doesn't warm up to outsiders, to the gorgonish landlord (Alexis Smith) "if you weren't on the first sailing ship, you'll always be an immigrant." Smith enters Foster's nest to glare at her forthright otherness ("Crosswords... and Hebrew") and ends up in the basement. The girl finds a fellow oddball in smartass teen Scott Jacoby, who dons magician's cape and walking stick, notices her chipped tooth and comes to the rescue when Sheen puts out his cigarette in her hamster's peeper. Survival and resistance are the goal, the heroine recounts her tale of pubertal autonomy in matter-of-fact tones somewhere between Sylvia Plath's Ariel poems and Village of the Damned. The novelistic strangeness of the material is compounded by the stagy reticence of Nicolas Gassner's direction, coolly accommodating budding sexuality, submerged incest, and almond-flavored poison with the tranquility of Nabokov at the table with fountain pen, inkwell and monocle. The thorny crawlspace between childhood and adulthood colors the canvas, giving its central query ("Since when do they let kids do what they want?") simultaneous traces of dream, fable, and danger. With Mort Shuman.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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