Dardenne brothers try their hand at a feel-good movie
by Domenico La Porta
15/05/2011 - Presented, as usual, in official competition at the Cannes Film Festival, the latest brainchild by Belgian filmmakers Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne stands a good chance of achieving the highest accolade, a third Palme d’Or for its directors, which would be a triple success not yet seen in the history of the competition.
When the audience meets Cyril (Thomas Doret), they discover an angry child with only one thing on his mind: finding his father (Jérémie Renier, a favourite actor of the Dardennes) who has put him temporarily in a children’s home. Soon Cyril meets Samantha (Cécile De France), a young hairdresser who agrees to keep him at her house during weekends. Samantha’s love for the child gradually heals his emotional wounds and overcomes his natural resistance to happiness.
From a simple, local and at the same time surprisingly universal story that took almost a year to write, the Dardenne brothers have created a work that shines out in their galaxy of films like the evening star. Firstly, because The Kid With a Bike [trailer, film focus] is a luminous film both literally — it’s the first time the brothers have shot a movie in summer — and figuratively, as there is none of the tortured agitation of films like Rosetta. Secondly, because The Kid With a Bike is definitely the directors’ most accessible work.
The directors haven’t abandoned social realist territory entirely and they still focus on relationships between individuals relegated to the margins of an established system: here, the family. However, The Kid With a Bike takes on the air of a fable, within a geographical triangle formed by the housing estate (Samantha), the forest (the danger of criminality) and a service station (a place for passing through, a pivotal location in the story).
Here, the cold and often heightened realism of the directors’ previous films is replaced by the softened prism of a child’s point of view. There emerges a new emotion in the Dardenne brothers’ cinema, something close to tenderness that is expressed with a falsely naive openness. Their intentions are clear throughout the narrative structure.
The calmer, less documentary-like directorial style doesn’t prevent the brothers from sometimes placing the camera at the heart of an agitated scene (that involves a crisis and someone running away), a clash experienced from the inside like a real action scene. But often the desire to film the relationship that develops between this substitute mother and the child means the directors have to bring the two actors together in the same shot.
This results in more static images that create a calm atmosphere, like the sequence in which Samantha and Cyril go cycling in the countryside, before eating a little sandwich in the sunshine, with broad smiles on their faces – very unusual in the Dardenne brothers’ work.
Kindness isn’t the only new feature in this film. In terms of the cast, the brothers have teamed up for the first time with a well-known actress, De France, who began shooting the film just after Clint Eastwood’s Hereafter.
In many other respects, The Kid With a Bike bears the oft-acclaimed hallmarks of the Dardenne brothers, but this is perhaps the film that will enable the two-time Palme d’Or-winners (for Rosetta in 1999 and The Child [trailer, film focus] in 2005) to win over critics and touch the hearts of mainstream audiences in one swoop.