Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne • Directors
by Domenico La Porta
11/05/2011 - After the official announcement that their latest film, The Kid With a Bike [trailer, film focus], had been chosen in competition for the 64th Cannes Film Festival, Cineuropa met with Belgian duo Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne, who belong to the select group of two-time Palme d’Or winners.
Cineuropa: The Kid With a Bike is perhaps your most accessible film. Did you intend to open up the story right from the writing stage?
Luc Dardenne: It’s our most optimistic film. It was our first summer shoot, which straightaway gave the film a more luminous tone, perhaps making it more pleasant and less dramatic. The story is simple like a traditional tale and we made sure we kept this clarity throughout the writing stage and shoot.
Jean-Pierre Dardenne: It’s also the first time we’ve worked with an actress like Cécile de France, who is already very well-known to mainstream audiences and brings this fame with her. We didn’t write the role specifically for her, but we wrote it knowing that a well-known actress would play the part, with the aim of reaching more people.
Weren’t you afraid of losing some of the audience in the first few minutes of the film? The unusual choice made by Samantha (De France) is never explained…
Luc: On the contrary. We wanted to keep viewers guessing about her. We don’t justify her actions. In a way, she adopts this child and it’s the action that counts, not the intentions. No psychological explanation is imposed.
Jean-Pierre: It’s nonetheless a very important question at the start of the film because such acts are rare nowadays. But at the end, when Samantha has succeeded in her endeavour, all that remains is this profoundly human act and the question of why is relegated to the background.
You also made sure you fitted in some nods in the direction of your regular audience. Did you wish to surprise them?
Luc: Unwittingly perhaps. It’s true that we enjoyed putting one of our favourite actors like Olivier Gourmet in a single scene in the film…
I was thinking more of the way in which the audience’s expectations are challenged, like in the scene where Cyril ends up in the bedroom of the dealer, who is clearly presented as a predator…
Luc: Yes, you could almost believe that the dealer is a sexual predator who is about to abuse Cyril, when in the end, the corruption is entirely different. The tension rises in this scene and the people familiar with our work may be expecting a much more dramatic outcome for the kid…
Jean-Pierre: We didn’t want that sort of gloom. The film’s ending is proof of that. That’s also why we’ve deliberately erased any form of vulgarity in the teenagers’ language, even though they’re street criminals…
Another thing which is new for you is the use of music. Did you use this musical motif as a language that images couldn’t express? Jean-Pierre: We can’t really describe it as a soundtrack, but we put a lot of thought into it. We thought of those few notes as a caress. The first time the audience hears the music, it comes from above and settles on Cyril like a calming gesture. It brings him the comfort that life refuses him at that point in the story.
Luc: Later on, the music returns twice after the encounters with his father and it is heard one last time at the end of the film when Cyril is completely in synchrony with it.
As with your previous films, you wrote the script. Do you still plan to adapt an existing story, for example a novel?
Luc: We’ve often tried, but the rights to the novels we’re interested in are never available, because they’re bought very early on, usually at the draft stage. In the past, we’ve tried to buy the rights to works by JG Ballard and Georges Simenon…
Your film has been selected in competition at Cannes again. Is this a key part of your strategy?
Jean-Pierre: Yes, clearly. It’s a real springboard for our films and a prestigious international showcase, but we’re never certain of making it to Cannes. We just do our upmost to complete our films at the right time in order to have a chance.