The film begins in nature, opening with a shot of a snake devouring a fish whole. It doesn’t take more than a minute or two to realize Hide Your Smiling Faces is an atmospheric film more concerned with creating feelings and ideas than a logical narrative. It succeeds tremendously.
Hide Your Smiling Faces has early scenes of kids out in the wild, which reminded me of The Kings of Summer. There’s naturalism to both films, which allows the viewer to feel like they’re really in the woods, not in a movie. However The Kings of Summer became more movie-like as it went on, while Hide Your Smiling Faces continues to feel real yet also more spiritual. It’s calm and balletic like the films of Matthew Porterfield, Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Terrence Malick.
Hide Your Smiling Faces wanders through transformative moments from childhood, without a particularly discernable narrative. It’s literally just shifting from moment to moment. I emphasize the word choice of shifting rather than jumping, as I completely understood where Carbone was taking me and why we moved from scene to scene. I can’t explain why intellectually, I just felt it. Carbone has described this approach saying that the film is not about the childhood you’re remembered for, like school plays or sports awards, but those strange, specific moments that you remember from childhood.
Some scenes include two brothers in a boat talking about death, roughhousing a little too much, and talking about a local tragedy with their parents. There’s nothing particularly special about the moments they choose to show in a grand sense, they’re special to a specific person at a specific time. The success of Hide Your Smiling Faces comes from its masterful command of sound, image and rhythm to convey that specialness to the viewer. This is a debut similar to, but not quite at the level of, Benh Zeitlin’s Beasts of the Southern Wild or Sean Durkin’s Martha Marcy May Marlene. While the technical elements feel carefully crafted by an experienced and highly skilled filmmaker, the film is limited by so-so acting.
I wouldn’t quite call this a gem, like Beasts or Martha, but it’s damn close. It’s one of the most impressive films I’ve seen this year and I can’t wait to see what Carbone does next.
The film is available now on VOD (iTunes, Amazon, and your local cable provider).
Suggested further reading: Rodrigo Perez at The Playlist, Guy Lodge at Variety, and Amber Wilkinson at Eye for Film.