Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Wed Oct 05, 2011 8:04 pm 
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Purity of emotion: love and hope (second viewing)

As I noted in the earlier review in my Paris Movie Report, in The Kid with a Bike/Le gamin au vélo the Dardenne brothers are "on strong familiar ground," "depicting a troubled boy struggling to get attention from his derelict, immature dad and tempted to a life of crime by an older boy who exploits him." And the Dardennes' discovery, 13-year-old Thomas Doret, who plays Cyril, the 11-year-old reject, is "excellent, if quite uncharming and uncute." But what I ought to have noted was not only the incredible drive Doret has but the emotional wallop the film packs. I was more deeply moved this time, viewing the film again at the New York Film Festival.

It's telling that the Dardennes cast Jérémie Renier as Cyril's derelict dad. Renier was a kid of 15 himself in 1996 when he played the son to Olivier Gourmet's reprehensible dad in the Dardennes' breakthrough La Promesse, and Thomas Doret may well go on to have an acting career like Renier. I noted that Cécile de France, who plays Cyril's working class, hairdresser surrogate mother, adds her usual "perky good looks and soul." But I ought to have added that de France's role adds a sweetness and warmth and hope unusual in a Dardenne film up to now. And of course love, the thing Cyril needs and so ardently seeks, sometimes in just the wrong places.

There has been no moment in the 2011 New York Film Festival as heartbreaking as the scene when Cyril's cowardly dad, forced by Samantha (de France) tells the boy he doesn't want to see him any more, ever, and the boy acts out his hurt and anger in Samantha's car. Then Cyril has his period of going bad, falling for the offer of preference and friendship he gets from the gangsterish Wes (Egon Di Mateo), who merely trains him to assault and rob a man carrying money from his newsstand sales, along with his son. Then comes Cyril's apology and Samantha's agreement to pay the damages, and the later fight between Cyril and the man's son.

When all that is over, and he's been even more decisively rejected by his dad, Cyril tells Samantha he wants to live with her full time, and they do.

I wrote in May that "What's so great with the Dardennes is the irresistible force of the chase, the hunt, or whatever is going on in the somewhat dogged narrative at hand, and a use of actors and non-actors so seamless that one never has a chance to stop and think 'this is a movie.'" Cyril goes everywhere at breakneck speed and he may have a more intense drive than any previous Dardennes character. But his dad stops Cyril, and so does his failure with Wes. So Cyril escapes from the group home, gets into his dad's former apartment, finds his dad, gets his bike back every time it's stolen, even carries out Wes' robbery plan, but it's all as nothing, because he has no one and is nothing till he accepts Samantha. Samantha, as I said in May, is "a saintly woman with tough love." And she's willing to deal with Cyril, even though he's such a handful. When her current boyfriend Gilles (Laurent Caron) says "you have to choose him or me," she says, "Him."

The film not only "ends on a note of hope." It is idyllic, when it shows Cyril and Samantha riding bikes together and going for a Sunday picnic. It suggests that they can have a nice life together, if he stays away from people like Wes in future. This isn't the Dardennes' only highly emotional film. Their films are often full of heartbreak and also full of forgiveness. But the level of hope here is unusually high, and I don't think it's a softening, just an affirmation.

The camerawork by Alain Marcoen is not jerky, as some have suggested. As I wrote earlier it is "(for these filmmakers) smoother than usual." What is also different, as was noted by Jean-Pierre and Luc at the New York Film Festival P&I press conference, are moments of music, powerful bursts of classical strings that evoke Italian neorealism. They said this was nearly a first for them, and that it added an element that was lacking in Cyril's life, the "element of love." I was struck this time by how those short bursts of music introduced to celebrate Cyril add a powerful note of humanism and warmth. This is an understated but very strong addition that I failed to note before but was strongly aware of this time. Again I was struck by the fact that the Dardennes' complete control over their medium, simple and single-minded, keeps our attention riveted for every minute of the film. It's a technique that leaves one feeling exhausted but fulfilled. The film seemed more emotional and more positive to me this time. It doesn't really matter that the directors are on more familiar ground than their previous Lorna's Silence. The emotional power, the intensity and speed of the little protagonist, and the positivity are something a little new, and the sense of things being just a little too much manipulated (but with masters' hands) is really no stronger here than it has been in nearly every one of the Dardennes' previous films. I am more impressed than I was in Paris and think this is brilliant work. But I understand why after so many at least superficially similar works the Cannes jury doubled this up with Nuri Bilge Ceylan's film and I very much understand why that film did not get a prize all to itself. I merely question whether it should have won anything.

I first watched The Kid with the Bike May 18, 2011 in Paris, the day of its French theatrical release. I watched it again October 5, 2011, as part of the New York Film Festival at Lincoln Center. The directors were present afterward with Richard Peña, Film Society director, for a Q&A. As mentioned before, the film co-won the Grand Prize at Cannes, sharing it with Nuri Bilge Ceylan's Once Upon a Time in Anatolia. The film has been bought for US distribution by Sundance Selects. US release date is apparently in March 2012.

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