THIEVES OF INNOCENCE written and directed by Paul Arcand. 98 minutes. An Odeon Films release. Subtitled. Opens Friday (November 11). For venues and times, see Movie Listings. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
Thieves of Innocence is the kind of high-quality work that uplifts with its excellence even as it appals with its content. The subject is Quebec's abused children and their fate at the hands of the Youth Protection service. There are tens of thousands of cases every year. The offenders typically get 18 months. For the children, life becomes a round of foster care, return to parents and life in Youth Protection hostels where the conditions are harsher than those faced by their abusers. They're moved around without warning or recourse. It's a life without stability, security or possessions. At 18, the system expels them. Many have no life skills. There's nowhere to go but the street.
Veteran Quebec journalist and broadcaster Paul Arcand has found people willing to talk from all sides of the story. Abusers and social work management weasels, who offer bland, self-serving evasions, get the least attention. The victims get the most. Adults now, they offer vivid, detailed accounts of what happened to them and what the experience has left them with. Hate, rage and mistrust figure significantly.
Arcand keeps his dramatizations low-key; it's clear he'd rather have us think than be overwhelmed with horror. But he's willing to make explicit comparisons between the rooms in Youth Protection's high-end office building and the wretched cells its charges inhabit, and between those cells and the larger, more comfortable ones holding their abusers.
In one striking moment, he brings Minister of Child Services Margaret Delisle into one of those cells and closes the door. She lasts just over a minute before asking to be let out, and from the hall shoots him a look of rueful admiration as she realizes just what's been caught on film.
A couple of weeks ago, Delisle announced Youth Protection Act changes designed to give the children more stability, and observers speculate that this movie was in part responsible. Maybe, maybe not.
Either way, it's a fine piece of film journalism.