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.