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Nifty kidpic “Paula’s Secret” handles strong stuff — like international child trafficking — within a clever, frequently humorous tale of a forced alliance between mismatched German classmates. There’s offshore remake potential here, wherever funders are willing to take a risk on family entertainment that is not entirely sugarcoated or escapist.

Paula (Thelma Heintzelmann) is a serious-minded 11-year-old whose well-off, well-intentioned parents have little time for her. She retreats into diary confessions to an imaginary prince-lover like in Harlequin romance-style fantasies. When two Romanian emigre boys forced into a Dickensian thievery ring slash her backpack on the subway, she is profoundly disturbed by the loss of the diary. Chubby classmate Tobi (Paul Vincent de Wall), hiding a crush, offers to help get the diary back. Both will have to pull off major parental fibs — delightfully including passing off Tobi’s bratty little sis Jenny (Constanze Spranger) as Paula at a luxury holiday camp for children of rich parents. Outfoxing violent adult criminals is another matter. Kids’ ingenious success is worked out in a crisp combo of credible preadolescent behavior, suspense and class-conflict comedy. Perfs, pacing, tech and design aspects are smart.

Paula’s Secret

Germany

  • Production: An Element E and ZDF production. Produced by Ingo Fliess, Bernd T. Hoefflin, Dagmar Ungureit. Directed, written by Gernot Kraa.
  • Crew: Camera (color), Eeva Fleig; editor, Soren Gorth; music, Dirk Reichardt, Stefan Hansen, Max Berghaus; production designer, Anke Wahnbaeck. Reviewed at Berlin & Beyond Film Festival, San Francisco, Jan. 13, 2008. Running time: 95 MIN.
  • With: <b>With:</b> Thelma Heintzelmann, Paul Vincent de Wall, Constanze Spranger, Albert Berisa, Juide Girisken, Claudia Michelsen, Christian Leonard, Jurgen Vogel, Karina Krawczyk, Martin Kiefer, Miriam Fiodeponti. -- Dennis Harvey
  • Music By: