Filmed in 16mm black and white, Little Feet often suggests a virtuoso home video, which it more or less is on account of writer-director Alexandre Rockwell deploying his own daughter and son, seven-year-old Lana and four-year-old Nico, as lead actors in roles with their own names. This is a micro-budgeted affair of the heart that’s never precious or obnoxious, but tender and moving and occasionally explosive in its intrinsic emotion. It’s a tall tale with a magical-realist sensibility, a la Beasts of the Southern Wild, in which Lana and Nico break free of their homegrown barriers to find out what they’re made of, courageously exploring the unknown. When one of their two pet goldfish dies, the youthful duo doesn’t grieve its loss, but chooses to aid the pet that’s been left behind, traversing a mystical Los Angeles on their way to set it free in the Pacific Ocean. Suggesting a Jarmuscian bedtime story, Little Feet doesn’t so much fill us with nostalgic longing for youth, or seek to argue that we’re all kids at heart, as much as it allows us to momentarily see the world through the eyes of a child.
The film opens with Nico asking his sister how their mother died. The tone in his voice, however, isn’t mournful, but sweetly curious, and the scene’s framing, sunlight tickling the children’s little feet, marks the moment as less gloomy than wistful. And though these siblings live in a self-contained world virtually free of adults, which pushes them toward a premature sense of independence, it’s made clear that they retain a strong sense of childlike wonder. A scene of mundane household tasks erupts into a joyous pillow fight, feathers flying and piling up in a striking visual that quickly gives way to Lana’s realization this instrument of fun has merely caused a mess in need of picking up. Yet as she and Nico clean, they sense, in the image of a single floating feather, the ineffable presence of their mother, a jubilant demonstration of how the youthful mind zigs from sorrow to joy so swiftly, a sensation the entire film elicits.