I don't spend much time around scrappy young boys, I guess, so when one tusslin' scamp twisted another's hand til he pleaded “mercy! mercy!” a chill of recognition shot through me. Yes, indeed, that is one of the sounds of summer, when kids are free to roam the neighborhood and waste time by throwing empty cups of soda off a bridge.
The group of young, mostly unsupervised boys at the heart of Daniel Patrick Carbone's “Hide Your Smiling Faces” have a rough season ahead of them. After a day spent wasting time in an abandoned house and playing with dead birds, brothers Eric (around 14) and Tommy (around 9) head over to Ian's house. Ian, aged somewhere in between, shows off his Dad's gun that is stashed in the barn.
As the group wrestles and shouts “lemme see” we are conditioned to grip our seats and wait for the blast that will surely send one of them to their graves. It doesn't happen (a somewhat unkempt father breaks it up) and young Ian is sent running off to the woods to cry in shame at his father's rebuke.
Soon thereafter (that same day? it's hard to tell in the haze of summer) Ian is found dead below a bridge overpass. Did he jump? Did he fall? The question is never answered, and this can only add to the muck of emotions Eric and Tommy feel as they try to continue their childhoods.
Eric begins acting out against his parents and others in escalating ways. Tommy becomes consumed with conversations about death. He is also quick to freak out when his brother does typical older brother things like putting him in a headlock or dunking him in water.
“Hide Your Smiling Faces” is extremely light on traditional plot. You are basically just watching two boys walk around the woods doing nothing, but you are doing it knowing that inside they are roiling in fear and confusion. Happening upon a dead animal becomes a moment leaden with profundity, even if the specifics are never quite laid out. Same goes with quick closed-eye same-sex kisses – a desire to connect, even if followed up with declarations of “eww” and “gross.”
Carbone and his DP Nick Bentgen have a knack of catching nature in evocative ways. The landscape is a definitive presence throughout the film, which has almost no music and very little dialogue. The film is short (approximately 80 minutes) and maintains a good sense of dread throughout. You just know another bomb is about to drop somewhere – and each scenario that could end in harm has you wincing. It is, indeed, a striking way to convey the nervousness of a kid whose blanket of safety has been torn off forever.
It is no pejorative to call “Hide Your Smiling Faces” a small gem. I suspect the budget was quite low and this will do for Daniel Patrick Carbone exactly what it is supposed to do – get his name out there as a bonafide talent who will likely follow-up with a larger and even more striking film. He is, indeed, one to watch.
SCORE: 8.0/ 10