March 14, 1997 [Ponette]

While they are easily produced--the smallest slight, the mere hint of thwarted desire, the faintest possibility of pain--children's tears are substantial, their surface tension thick and curved, well-defined tiny globes that reluctantly--but copiously--break from the eye and slide along rounded cheeks; if you gather up the child and press your face to hers in comfort, your own cheek becomes streaked with tears, the child willing to share.

In Ponette the little French girl loses her mother--the child's forearm in a cast to remind her of the accident--and she cries and cries and cries an intermittent flood we cannot escape: the camera moves down and stays with her, the adult faces rarely seen unless they bend down or scoop her up, so that in close-up we can see her grief with little distance between us--and this time it is deep, the last grief, the mourning tears, "the blight man was born for."  She is a child, and so turns quickly from tears to other things (and it's not just children who are good at this; it's a strategy--no: an instinct--we all learn, showers suddenly broken by sunlight); but she always returns to her tears as solid as though she were in a fairy tale, her tears enchanted--cursed?--to fall from her eyes like crystal beads.

And all she can do is search for her mother, enlisting in the effort God and children of God and her unbelieving father and the possibility of playground tests and trials to deem her worthy of cracking open the tomb and resurrecting her mother.  Along the way she's given many kisses by her impish cousin and well-intentioned maps of the boundary between Heaven and Earth--all of it eagerly taken in, but of little help.

Ponette, it turns out, was right after all--she did not need to be tested, and certainly did not need to put away her childish things: It was tears after all, with watery prayers forced out in between, that eroded the stone and opened the grave so that her mother could dress her warmly and send her home to live and learn to be happy--a mother's command as soft and necessary as the red sweater Ponette suddenly wears to rejoin her father and leave the grave behind.


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