Review- The Kid with a Bike

The Kid with A Bike is the latest film by the acclaimed Dardenne brothers, a tandem whose films I do have to see more of, however, in seeing this film one can see why it is they are acclaimed for it does some truly special things indeed. The overwhelming quality of it all is that it makes its world small such that is story will be big and can be seen and appreciated by all, which plays to the fairy tale aspect they discuss in a Film Comment interview but I’ll touch on that again later.

To illustrate how it keeps things small and fairly naturalistic, one of the key scenes is one wherein Cyril (Thomas Doret) is playing with a faucet in Samantha’s hair salon, he allows it to continuously run avoiding her questions and refusing to talk or stop. The first thing that strikes me is one axiom I heard about acting really is true: having business immediately connects an actor more strongly to a scene. Doret is transfixed by the water, being defiant, yes, but also avoiding reality and losing himself because it’s too much. The business also fascinating how small a thing is necessary. It also factors in later as he is burdened by a secret that perhaps he wants to tell; he messes with a refrigerator handle but Samantha doesn’t really notice, only tells him to stop and makes no attempt to coax information out of him.

Much of the tale is concerned with Cyril trying to locate his father and gain his acceptance; his father on the other hand wants to wash his hand of the child. Samantha (Cécile De France) is a woman he comes upon by chance as he’s chased on one of his investigations but runs into her, he holds on to her for dear life and she protects him, not knowing anything and with little other information offers to put him up on the weekend when the home can’t have him there. The film is rather isolated and insular, as such we remain focused entirely on the situation the characters are in and how they behave in their environment and it begins to lend gravitas to all of their actions.

There is a nearly musical quality to the way this film flows, several key sequences are punctuated by pieces of source music (all cues are classical arrangements not original compositions and they fit perfectly).

Cyril himself is in motion a lot, chasing or being chased, riding his bike or running seeking information or acceptance. Despite all that happens he longs for his father’s acceptance to a fault. If you see the trailer you’ll note what one of the major plot points is and the sequence wherein the antagonist/corrupter recruits him is rather convincingly done. There is a longing in Cyril but there is also one in Samantha.

Samantha becomes the mother figure as Cyril’s father is not only and absentee but uncaring. She gets no history, the only facts in the film relate to Cyril’s case. It’s noted and it’s absolutely fine. She still has her reason and her motivations and makes a dramatic choice but she knows and I as an audience member knew she knew. This speaks to the subtlety of the film, which doesn’t try to over-explain. Some things we understand later and some things need not be addressed at all. This one of the former and the film is stronger for it.

The film nearly plays like a fairy tale sometimes or like a tragedy at others but always within a real and small realm and always refusing to be entirely the aforementioned things and stays rather true, yet towards the end still built a fair bit of suspense.

It’s a film carried by two actors Cécile De France and Thomas Doret, who has a most impressive debut, which also was discussed in the New York Times piece on outstanding child performers. His performance is one of physical commitment to all moments and not a dialogue-driven one, whereas Cécile De France is one of presence and aura and at one point heartbreaking empathy.

The Kid with a Bike for all its tough and dramatic moments is a one that is about needing to be loved and needing a chance for redemption. It’s ultimately an uplifting film, made more so for all the obstacles that need to be overcome to reach that point.

8/10

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Review- Hereafter

Cécile De France and Matt Damon in Hereafter (Warner Bros.)

Clint Eastwood over the last decade has emerged as one of the pre-eminent American filmmakers on the cinematic landscape. Part of the reason behind his emergence is his belief in tried and true classical storytelling techniques. They are the kind of techniques that form the foundation of film and have become almost outdated due to their simplicity. This straightforward approach is avoided by most not only for aesthetic reasons but also because you have little to no margin for error when you are this direct. Some may call it ham-handed or on the head but that just indicates a personal disconnect with the material what best describes it is direct.

Why this analysis of his style is even worth mentioning is because he has now applied it to many different genres and/or styles of tale within close proximity to one another. In this tale, however, there is a little something missing from it. It’s almost as if the subject of the hereafter needs a little bit of an arcane approach to be as effective on screen as it could be.

There is, of course, also the concern of the limited omniscience that is rendered this tale. We are left examining people who are touched by death but none who actually die. We don’t follow them we follow the living, which makes it a much more mundane human drama, which can be as interesting if not more so. Of course, it ends up being a tale about life but there is no major insight or revelation offered save for some reassurance that there is something to look forward to in the big sleep.

It tells a three-pronged tale which will predictably intertwine and much like You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger it could’ve used some more judicious edits to make the story it tells just a bit tighter. One example is the trip that Marie, played wonderfully by Cécile De France, takes to Switzerland. She is only there to get files from a doctor. Yet there is quite a bit of her walking about and witnessing melodramatic deathbed scenes before she meets with the doctor. In tandem with that both her scenes with her publisher run a bit long and could’ve been shortened. The eventuality of the intertwining becomes apparent at some point so the journey needs to be truncated somewhat.

The acting overall is very strong and carried the movie through its doldrums. Matt Damon in particular is quite effective especially when he is doing readings on people which he approaches tentatively.

This film is also proof that films don’t necessarily need to be replete with incident but at least information such that the story moves on. Both Marie and Marcus have their very clear inciting incidents which are huge but the rest of their respective journeys are filled with a lot less fireworks but no less interesting just a bit longer than necessary.

Eastwood in this film is tackling a bigger subject with much the same approach he has faced others except musically. If there’s one thing that sets Eastwood apart from most is that he typically also scores his own films. In this film, however, the score is never noticeable. Which is good because it doesn’t call attention to itself but it also doesn’t enhance the film greatly.

All that said this film does have its moments of surpassing quality. Particularly the ending and the much anticipated reading. It does give us wonderful visuals in the rare glimpses of the afterlife we do get and does acknowledge the enormity of its subject matter and gives you some food for thought.

6/10

Hereafter is available on home video starting today.