After the overthrow of the tyrannical Nicolae Ceaucescu in December, 1989, the world became aware of the horrendous conditions in which so many Romanian children were living. Thousands of handicapped and able-bodied children were living in squalid "orphanages" and thousands more, numbering at least 20,000, were living on the streets. A combination of crushing poverty and disastrous state policies regarding contraception and child care contributed to one of the worst tragedies of modern Europe.

This documentary film focuses on the lives of a group of children living in a Bucharest underground station, the oldest in her late teens, the youngest barely past toddlerhood. The camera captures how these children live, and the ways in which they care for each other and for themselves as they endure violence and abuse, huff paint fumes from paper bags, and try to survive.


This film sometimes seems like a modern Lord of the Flies, taking place not on some remote island but in the subways under Bucharest. It stands as a useful counterpart to the very popular Brazilian film, City of God--for as exhilarating and thrilling as City of God may be, its funky aesthetics tend to elide the grey and miserable existence of children on the street. The filmmakers assert at the beginning of the film that Ceaucescu's political dictates were the root cause of how these children came to be on the street. Although they are no doubt correct that Ceaucescu's regime was largely responsible, the film itself makes clear that there were other social, familial and personal reasons for the children to flee their homes.

Many of the children escaped abuse and terrible family violence. In one extended sequence, a pair of children return home and are briefly reunited with their mother and stepfather; the shocking ambivalence of the family is all too obvious. The documentary itself makes it impossible to ascribe the suffering to one despotic government. The film also plainly documents the continued failure of adults to protect these children (despite valiant efforts from some very committed and caring adults), as well as the refusal of many of these children to accept help.

This is a film of witnessing, and one is left asking the questions that witnessing demands: is witnessing enough? What interventions are possible for these children, or others like them? If nothing can come of it, then is witnessing not simply a moral form of voyeurism?


In Romanian with English subtitles. Academy Award Nomination for Best Documentary, 2002; winner of the Special Jury Prize for Documentary, 2001.

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