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Children Underground (2001) – DVD Review

children underground DVD cover


Directed by: Edet Belzberg


  1. Crew biographies
  2. Filmmaker statement
  3. ‘Where Are They Now’ Updates
  4. Resource Guide to Organizations and Charities

Released by: Docurama
Region: 1
Rating: NR
Anamorphic: N/A; it appears in its original 1.33:1 format.

My Advice: Rent it with some Kleenex handy.

Even though communism is nearly gone from Europe, its aftermath of political and economic disruption still lingers. As is usually the case, the most vulnerable group, children, suffer the most. Romanian children suffer even more since there are so many and so few resources to help them. This situation was caused when the former communist ruler, Nicolae Ceausescu, outlawed contraception and abortion supposedly to increase the workforce. As one of the poorest countries of Europe, Romania now has over 20,000 children on the streets of the city of Bucharest. Many of these children run away from badly managed orphanages and abusive families. Even worse, families who can’t support another mouth to feed throw them out. So they are reduced to odd jobs, begging, or worse.

[ad#longpost]Director Belzberg profiles five children who “live” in the Piata Victoriei subway station in this documentary. There is Christine, 16, the leader of the group who shaves her head and wears boy’s clothing to protect herself. Macarena, 14, constantly inhales the intoxicating fumes of Autolac, a cheap silver paint, to dull the pain. Ana and Marian, 10 and 8, are a sister and brother who ran from a poverty stricken and unstable home. Finally, you have Mihai, 12, who says he ran away to escape a drunken abusive father. Belzberg used no voice over and little explanatory text and instead allows the children to tell their story. She shows us that even with the violence, the drug use, and the hours of mindless tedium, there are still glimpses of children that play and care under the hardened exterior. It’s hard to believe that something so fragile can survive all the commuters walking by ignoring their very existence. We also see the meager government programs and charities out there to help them. They have, by necessity, adopted a triage mentality; identifying which children are capable of rehabilitation to spend their meager resources on. This documentary doesn’t tug at your heart, it stomps on it. It yells at you to get up and do something. When people simply stare ahead and don’t do anything to help, it makes us all a little less human.

The extras are small, but well made. We have Belzberg’s statement of why she made this film and what its effect was on her and small biographies on the crew. There is also a “Where Are They Now” feature that tells how the kids have managed to survive and how some are falling even further down the cracks. What’s most important is a resource guide to various charities and Non Government Organizations that are trying to alleviate this misery, how you can contact them for information and how you can help. Because that what the film Children Underground is trying to do. It’s not just trying to depress you, it wants you to look down at the problem and say, “Let me help.”

children underground couple