Olivier Ringer’s On the Sly is a family affair right down to the bone, directed by the patriarch, co-written by the matriarch and starring all three members of the Ringer clan. This is a children’s film in the most stripped-back sense of the term, in that it concocts a strange, but strangely real fantasy world into which six-year-old Cathy (Wynona Ringer) must venture.
The film opens with an impressively staged driving sequence, as Cathy is carefully strapped into the back seat of a sleek saloon car which hurtles through Paris at night. As the city lights refract and smear across her passenger window, she begins to idly speculate about abandonment, and the fact that her busy parents sat in the front of the car don’t really know she exists any more.
This theoretical proposition comes into being when – literally or metaphorically, it’s never clear – her parents do drive off without her, leaving her to fend for herself on the grounds of their grand old country stack. The on-screen characters seldom speak, though Cathy offers us her spry, internal stream-of-consciousness witterings as she takes it as red that she’s going to need to start a new, independent life alongside the flora and fauna of the forest.
Like Lewis Carroll’s Alice, the world we see is clearly a patchwork of sugar-spun dreams that have been ripped directly from Cathy’s wayward imagination, offering a projection of her fears, her woes, her brittle sense of humour and, most bizarrely, her amusingly gauche and practical reaction to parental abandonment. It’s a modest but beautifully formed and well intentioned film that’s carried on the tiny back of Wynona Ringer’s charismatic-beyond-her-years central turn, and it’s one to show kids who have tired of the seemingly endless deluge of animated rapping 3D squirrels.
A Franco-Belgian kids film about abandonment. Will the nippers be able to read the subtitles?
A six-year-old keeps you glued to the screen with her tremendous performance.
A different kind of children’s film, and all the better for it.