Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Dardennes' best--or close to it: THE KID WITH A BIKE opens in NYC and L.A.

After the disappointment of Lorna's Silence, those Belgian brothers,  Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne (shown below, with Luc on the right), are back in form. More than that, THE KID WITH A BIKE seems to me their best film so far, one in which they have managed to distill compactly, beautifully the essence of their themes: the responsibility of adults, the fragility of children and how these play out in a scenario in which the whole of society -- individuals and groups -- is involved. The child in this case is a young boy without a mom, whose father has now abandoned him, in a cowardly manner without even an explanation, to social services. Consequently, the boy is certain that, somehow and against all odds, he and his dad will be reunited. To that end, he keep running away to find the missing parent.

In the wonderful French/Morrocan film Ali Zaoua: Prince of the Streets (click and scroll down), there's a scene in which a puppy keeps climbing up the stairs toward his master, a young boy who repeatedly, out of frustration and anger, kicks him back down those stairs. Again and again the dog tries to come to his master, and again and again he is kicked back. In his repeated attempts to join his father, Cyril, the "kid" in The Kid With a Bike (Thomas Doret, below, right, in a terrific screen debut) reminded me of that small animal. His need for love is so heart-breaking in its determination to reconnect with his dad, that when you finally meet the missing father-- played with his usual command by Dardennes stalwart Jérémie Renier (below, left) -- and see what a piker, what an irresponsible guy he is -- you want to punch him out.

The Dardennes, bless 'em, don't want to punch him out. They want to show us how things work -- or don't -- and why. And so we get another "moral tale," but one that could hardly be farther from the style and content of the late Erich Rohmer. When I used the word "distill" above, I think this is exactly what the Dardennes do so well. And this enables them to ignore or elide things that other film-makers would be forced to include. There's a scene early on in which Cyril, about to be taken away once again by the authorities, suddenly clings hard to a young woman in doctor's office (Cécile De France, below). When this woman, Samantha, then takes on the responsiblity for Cyril, we need no explanation or motivation. It was all there in those few moments of Cyril's desperation and the shock, then the feeling, experienced by Samantha -- which the Dardennes capture quickly and deftly, and which we see and feel so deeply.

The movie is full of such fine work. That's why, though it lasts but 87 minutes, including credits, the film opens an entire world to us. Performances are bountiful, as usual with this filmmaking team, but especially in this case, and especially the work of Mlle. de France -- who, from L'Auberge Espagnole and High Tension through Avenue Montaigne, Mesrine and beyond, is aging beautifully and gracefully, while maturing into a wonderfully versatile actress.

The Kid With a Bike (from Sundance Selects) -- a don't-miss, even by the Dardennes' high standards -- opens this Friday, March 16, in New York City and Los Angeles. (I'll try to find specific theaters and then link to them. Check back later, please)

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