Friday, March 30, 2012

Jean Pierre and Luc Dardenne: The Kid with a Bike

Cecile De France, Thomas Doret, The Kid with a Bike, Sundance Selects, 2012.

One incorrigible character, driven by one seemingly simple goal, steamrolls through the Belgian streets, encountering several distinctive secondary characters along the way. In the end, an epiphany has touched all our lives, both these characters and especially us as the audience. This can sum up in words the power and trajectory of a Dardenne Brothers film. Yet the transcendent power of their best work (La Promesse, Rosetta, Le Fils, and L'enfant) is beyond mere words: they will shake you to your very core. The weight of their work is why we, the audience, should be going to the movies in the first place; to be both entertained AND enlightened.

That said, these uncompromising auteurs have seen a recent slump. Their last couple of films have suffered from imbalanced screenplays, indecipherable tones and enfuriating implausibilities. For directors who have pitched themselves somewhere between Bresson and Cassavetes, this is no way to be. Their combination of hand-held cameras, non-actors and location shooting yields authentic results, while harking back to Italian Neo-Realism.Monotony pierced by nirvana have marked them as two of the greatest artists in the world.

Their new picture, The Kid with a Bike, draws obvious narrative influences from De Sica's Bicycle Thieves, which also inspired a superior film last year, A Better Life. Stylistically, we have vintage Dardenne. As a whole, it feels like another film entirely, albeit a frustratingly uneven one. We meet an almost unbearable little boy named Cyril (an impressive Thomas Doret) whose sleazy deadbeat dad (Dardenne regular Jeremie Renier) has sold his bike and left the kid in foster care. Acting out, running away, and searching for his bike and dad, he encounters maternal hairdresser Samantha (warmly perfect Cecile De France) who ends up trying to help him.

As I said, the style is astounding. Its just that the script has copious problems, and it affects the integrity of the picture as a whole. Along with their last film, the underwhelming Lorna's Silence, the Dardenne's have entered a period of reconfiguring their ouevres, similar to what David Fincher has been going through, producing some of their least important films. And yet, these mid-period movies are better than almost everything else that comes out. Lorna's Silence, The Social Network, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and The Kid with a Bike are minor masterworks in their own ways.

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