Spartacus, even at thirteen, understands that moving away might improve his life chances, but leave his parents with little to live for. The parents clearly love their kids, but the basic reason they give to why don't want to lose the children is that they've brought them up to this point - and that argument is tragically misjudged. In discussions with a French family lawyer, Spartacus' maturity is enough that he even acts as interpreter to his parents. His father believes that his children "aren't French," so the authorities have no right to step in. But no matter how much he loves his children he and his wife are not capable of bringing up the kids. The children's realisation of this, suggested very subtly into the documentary, is heartbreaking. The children are fascinating subjects, and Nuguet shoots with an impressionistic verité and a style that is at once both lyrical and stark. There's poverty, but there's also an thrill in their childhood situation that makes their life seem much more fulfilled than perhaps many of their more comfortable contemporaries.
Despite what appears to be large gaps in time between scenes, Nuguet managed to balance the narrative in a way that never loses its grasp on what's happening. Even when things do start to look bright, it's with a melancholic air, as the children come under the care of Camille, a Roma trapeze artist living in the countryside. Spartacus ponders "I don't know if we have the right to feel this," as while they live better, their drunk father begs homeless on the street and their mother is being physically abused. When the kids return to visit them briefly, they don't know what to say, so dumbstruck that, without their children, their parents are simply destitute. With this week's EU elections, the film makes an important point about the responsibilities of other countries in embracing fellow European cultures, as it is when the Roma community is most isolated that the outcome to Spartacus & Cassandra's story would be least positive.
The 67th Cannes Film Festival takes place from 14-25 May 2014. For more Cannes coverage, simply follow this link.