On The Sly/à Pas De Loup


Directed by Olivier Ringer. Starring Macha Ringer, Olivier Ringer, Wynona Ringer Club, QFT, Belfast (from tomorrow), 77 min

IT’S FRIDAY and, as ever, six-year-old Cathy (Wynona Ringer, daughter of writer/director/star Olivier) is buckled into the backseat of the family car and taken to the country house where her hardworking Parisian parents spend their weekends.

A lonely kid with a teaming imagination, our teeny heroine decides en route that her elders have no time for her and resolves to punish them by letting the motor drive off without her. Once the door slams shut, an unseen Cathy escapes into a nearby forest, where she befriends a fish and a hairy beast and improvises accommodation. Suddenly she’s Robinson Crusoe without the endless itineraries, Tom Sawyer without his band of robbers.

Away from such notable narrative oddities as Robert Montgomery’s Lady in the Lake, only a handful of films have maintained a central (albeit slanted) focus to match that of this Belgian co-production. An entirely child-centric venture, On the Sly mediates a low-key, naturalistic fairytale through Cathy’s naive voiceover. Grown-ups are only vaguely and partially glimpsed entities in the front of the car. Time is muddled: just as Max finds his supper still warm at the end of Where the Wild Things Are, Cathy’s odyssey through the forest works to elongate and compress chronology.

Fans of La Quattro Volte, Two Years at Sea and the entire post- Robert O’Flaherty slow-doc groove will appreciate the patient vérité. The occasionally harsh digital stock is hardly dreamy, but the simple mythological implications of going down to the woods come good, making On the Sly eligible for a small, gorgeous canon that includes Charles Laughton’s The Night of the Hunter and David Gordon Green’s George Washington.

Wynona Ringer, making her big screen debut, is sweet, unaffected company without ever lapsing into cutesy-pie. The widescreen presentation of her adventures is impressive and the boxing dovetails neatly with Cathy’s selective interior monologue. Forget the tyranny of the cinematic gaze, insists the picture, here comes digital democracy.

Never mind the ideology. For the discerning punter with a brood, this accessible, all-ages show is a classier, more aesthetically pleasing way to kick-start the summer holidays than, say, Top Cat.