Eleven-year-old Ricardo knows he deserves more than his middle-class family can provide. Choosing to spend his free time thumbing through catalogs, Ricardo determines it imperative that he own a calculator watch, Walkman and K-Way jacket. He also swears classmate Anne Tremblay is secretly in love with him, and learns that lying is sometimes the best option. 1981, a semi-autobiographical comedy from French Canadian director Ricardo Trogi, is a warm, amusing look at adolescence that occasionally stumbles under dramatic intentions.
After his family moves into a new neighborhood and Ricardo (Jean-Carl Boucher) becomes the new kid at school, he tells a group of boys that he can get them Playboys in order to earn their friendship. Ricardo cannot get the magazines, and he cannot write in longhand, despite promising his father he would master the technique. After failing a dictation test, Ricardo is tutored by classmate Anne Tremblay, the object of his affection, and decides that their arms brushing must be a sign that she loves him.
Director Trogi's 1981 is a funny look at life as an eleven-year-old, with a protagonist that reminded me a lot of Ralphie in A Christmas Story. At the heart of the story is 1980s materialism. Ricardo's dad is between jobs, but begins building a deck outside the house he cannot afford to own. Ricardo chastises his mom for making the family live beyond its means, causing her to scold him for being greedy. As an adolescent, Ricardo recognizes the flaws in others but overlooks his own.
Lying is another theme in 1981, as Ricardo realizes the people around him lie all the time. After this epiphany, Ricardo lies to make friends, get the attention of a girl and to get out of trouble, but the film also explores two other kinds of lies: Those which adults tell children to make them feel secure, and those that children tell each other to hide personal traumas. Ricardo encounters both, and realizes that his parents and friends often struggle to keep smiles on their faces.
Ricardo's materialism is an obvious parallel to the film's theme of burying unhappiness, and 1981 is probably not as weighty as it thinks it is. Some of the more dramatic elements feel a bit trite, despite good intentions. The problem with telling a story through the eyes of an eleven-year-old is that issues become too black and white. Regardless, Trogi nails the look and feel of the 1980s, from the music to the Star Wars comforters to the schoolyard attire. Well-acted and directed, 1981 is a good-natured if lightweight look at the triumphs and injustices of adolescence.
The DVD of 1981 is provided by Film Movement and is a selection from its DVD of the Month Club, which highlights award-winning independent and foreign films.
Film Movement's 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer for 1981 captures the film's intended muted appearance. Colors are often understated, and the movie has a flat appearance, but this is not the fault of the transfer. Detail is generally good, and I noticed no excessive sharpening or noise reduction. I did notice that a few shots are excessively soft, and compression artifacts pop up in a few scenes.
The soundtrack is only provided in 2.0 French stereo with optional English subtitles. This is a shame, as a full 5.1 track might have given the music and effects more resonance. Dialogue is always clear and balanced, but the track feels somewhat condensed.
The DVD includes a Short Film of the Month (5:32) from Spain, Lupe & Bruno, in which Lupe does her best to woo Bruno. The one-sided relationship in the short is reminiscent of Ricardo's crush on Anne Tremblay in the feature. The only other features are the film's theatrical trailer, Director Ricardo Trogi's bio and bonus trailers.
Earnest and amusing, 1981 is an entertaining look at an eleven-year-old boy's 1980s upbringing. The film's emotional resonance is tempered by its lightweight premise, but is saved by some sharp comedic wit and a spot-on recreation of the decade. Film Movement's DVD is technically adequate and includes an amusing accompanying short film. Recommended.