F.I.L.M. of the Week (June 6, 2014)

6 06 2014

Kid with a BikeIn 2012 and 2013, whatever time I had that wasn’t devoted to studying for finals in late April and early May was devoted to cramming in some important movie watching.  Around mid-April, the lineup for the Cannes Film Festival is announced, and both years promised new films for prominent directors whose filmographies I had largely (and shamefully) neglected.

This year, I sadly did not get the chance to go back to Cannes, instead relegated to the sidelines to live vicariously through The Hollywood Reporter and IndieWire’s reporting.  (I’m not asking you to feel bad for me; I’m lucky enough to have gone in the first place!)  That did not stop me, however, from keeping up my habit of catching up on some filmmakers walking the Croisette with new works.

It led me to discover the raw power and magic of the Dardenne brothers, Jean-Pierre and Luc, albeit from the comfort of their own couch.  I certainly forward to seeing their latest film, “Two Days, One Night,” after being blown away by their prior film “The Kid with a Bike.”  Thought it was the runner-up at 2011 Cannes to “The Tree of Life,” it’s still first-class enough to be called my “F.I.L.M. of the Week.”

The raw naturalism of the Dardennes really snuck up on me while watching “The Kid with a Bike,” and by the end, my heart beat in tune with the pulse of the film.  Their filmmaking technique seems to be in the vein of alienation, stripping the frame of aesthetic beauty so we can focus on the political realities within it.  The Dardennes focus their narrative on the more marginalized of Belgium whose stories are not usually told; here, that’s Cyril, the titular child who has been brought up through the foster care system.

As Cyril rebels against authority, following his own impulsive whims and defiantly straining the patience of those who care for him, the film recalls a harder-edged “The 400 Blows.”  Yet it slowly evolves before our eyes into something powerfully emotional and deeply felt on a guttural level.  The Dardennes’ periodic and well-timed use of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5 (also employed in the epilogue of “The King’s Speech“) certainly helps amplify some key moments, though it alone is not responsible for the powerful impact of the film.

Though Cyril is initially thorny and tough to sympathize with, the Dardennes’ plot brilliantly unfolds with a double whammy of both exposing his vulnerability and putting him into more dangerous situations.  As we begin to see how little love he receives from a deadbeat biological father and how little regard he is held in by an uncaring society, we rush in to fill the void of affection.

We become inspired to adopt a position similar to Cecil de France’s Samantha, the adoptive foster mother of Cyril.  She’s not perfectly caring and patient, to be sure, because Cyril doesn’t always make it easy. On the other hand, she does try to instill in him the sense of self-worth that no one else gave him.  “The Kid with a Bike” doesn’t issue an explicit call for us to help the poor in spirit, but it almost doesn’t need to do so.  The film’s stirring conclusion ought to move anyone with a heart to show more compassion for everyone.

REVIEW: Hereafter

4 11 2010

It’s interesting to see the growth of the “hyperlink cinema” filmmaking style over the past decade.  In an age where we often feel so isolated and alone, living out just our own story, these movies that manage to intertwine multiple apparently unrelated storylines fill us with a sense that we actually are connected with everyone in the world around us.

The latest entry in this style comes from writer Peter Morgan (“Frost/Nixon”) and director Clint Eastwood, “Hereafter,” a musing on the nature of life and death in modern times.  Eastwood, who has made a name directing gritty movies, would seem to be the last person to take on such a project.  Yet at 80, his age and experience give the movie an overarching sense of peace and placidity.

In one sense, “Hereafter” is more focused than more sprawling movies like “Crash” and “Traffic,” which attempt to weave together what feels like dozens of characters in the course of two hours.  Morgan gets us well acquainted with three principal figures spread across three countries.

George Lonengan, played with composure by Matt Damon, has the ability to talk to the departed but struggles to maintain control over their intrusion into the way he lives his life.  There’s the age-old “gift vs. curse” dialectic haunting him as well, and it has forced him to resign himself to factory labor in San Francisco.

Marie, a subtly affecting Cecile de France, makes contact with the hereafter when she nearly drowns in the 2004 Indonesian tsunami.  Her experience sticks with her when she goes back to her job as a news anchor in Paris, and it’s obvious to everyone around her that she has something more than mere survivor’s guilt.  Trying to move on but unable to let go of her experience, her views of what awaits us after death lock her into a “faith vs. reason” debate that has accompanied countless discussions of heaven.

In London, a touching and hard-hitting story of mourning arises after death separates Jason and Marcus (Frankie and George McLaren), leaving the latter feeling left behind and alone.  With a mother addicted to drugs, he feels he has nowhere to turn to but the supernatural.  Whether Marcus seeks companionship or closure is left much to the audience’s imagination, but no matter what the goal is, it’s an emotional journey.

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