On the Sly: Into the Woods With a Little Fugitive

Following the child runaways of Moonrise Kingdom, this small French drama has a 6-year-old girl (Wynona Ringer) flee into the woods not for love, but as a test of her busy parents. “They never look at me,” frets Cathy in her interminable, tedious voice-overs, and her arboreal gambit is to see if they notice her absence. A pint-size survivalist, she forages for berries and mushrooms, sleeps on a bed of ferns in her lean-to, and carries a pet fish around in a pail. (She’s hungry, but not hungry enough to eat it; in the movie’s funniest scene, they share a snack of worms!) While her parents and the police do actually search for her, Cathy’s ruse becomes a kind of thriller, as the little fugitive runs deeper into the forest. Directed by the young actress’ father, Olivier Ringer, On the Sly steers away from the whimsical or the cute; there’s a gravity to this young heroine, who sometimes recalls the orphan girl in René Clément’s 1952 Forbidden Games (surely an influence). She, like many children, is playing ritual games that allow her to imagine both her parents’ mortality and her own. “I think if I wasn’t around, they’d be much happier,” she sulks. But the film also permits her little fantasies of family happiness—being tickled, going fishing, and so forth—that emphasize the subjective mood. The adults who ignore her barely register as people (and often have their faces cropped out of frame); and when Cathy gives her full scrutiny to bugs, or the loyal fish, or a passing dog, they become major characters in her sternly self-directed drama. (Note: This weekend features short films also from the Children’s Film Festival in January, when On the Sly was voted best film.)