Movies are part of our life in so many levels. You will find that people are easily divided into the ones who enjoy film as pure entertainment and those who see it as a cultural statement. In the second group, people tend to follow films according to their nationality and the filmmakers behind them, which is why some of them end up getting international distribution. Lars Von Trier, for example, has been in the market for more than 20 years with his usually shocking films. But his comments in film festivals give him the extra “punch” to becoming a household name. Right now we are waiting for his latest film which is not only called Nymphomaniac and deals with sex, but it comes right after his press conference in Cannes where he said he could understand Nazism, which led the festival to ban him.
Other festival darlings tend to pass under the radar to moviegoers who are looking for films with a punch. The example at hand is the work of the Dardenne Brothers. Born in Belgium, this duo has developed a filmography that will endure the test of time, planting themselves firmly in a neorealism of the 21st century. They have established their style, their rules and their own industry as much as The Cohens have this side of the planet and the fact that each one of their films have gathered recognition in most European festivals (with two Palme D’Ors for Best Film and one for best Screenplay in Cannes) is enough to make any film connoisseur want to follow their work, right? Well, not very much. Ask the friends that have some film culture and they will not be particularly informed about these guys. Why would that be? My guess is that their films are not about Showing up, but about private little stories that tend to be seen as not universal. Oh, but they are, very much indeed.
Let’s take their latest entry “The Kid with a Bike”, which has been considered their most commercially viable film because, contrary to their previous offerings, it’s filmed in the summer, making it more lively, it presents a somehow easy solution to the main character’s ordeal and it has a recognized international star (Cecile De France).
Following in the footsteps of their films “The Child” and “The Son”, and also “La Promesse”, Cyril (played to perfection by Thomas Doret) is a troubled pre-adolescent who has been abandoned as the film begins. He, of course, won’t take it as it is and will obsessively look for his father, with whom he has established a strong bound born from their social and financial problems. As it happens with most of the Dardenne’s characters, Cyril is a strong willed character, hardened by his circumstances to the point of seeking his own survival, more than happiness, which meaning doesn’t exist in their dictionary.
Almost immediately after, Cyril crosses paths with Samantha, a young hairdresser who takes him into her custody out of simple humanity. The Dardennes don’t elaborate much on her intentions, nor into her background. Samantha is a clean canvas in which the audience can empty their reasons to help or not this trouble child. She becomes the conduit that keeps the audience in continuous communication with the film.
As with everyone of the Dardenne’s films, the action does not involve derivative storylines about saving the world or finding happiness, although nothing would make Cyril happier than being next to his father, no matter how detached and irresponsible he is (lets not forget the last time we saw Jeremy Renier was the father in “The Child”, who sold his baby to the mob for some easy cash). They are more in the same level of Truffaut’s “The 400 blows” in a more muted depiction.
The story’s development does not give easy “revelations” that make the characters grow, and the actions are not big turning points. Cyril (as well as the other characters before him) has to learn by getting all the punches (both physically and emotionally), and sometimes the mental activity comes right in the midst of a new problem, which gives the characters the extra burden of having to take responsibility.
In the case of “The Kid with a Bike” The Dardennes have realized that not everything is lost, and not all the people we run into will deepen our chaos. Samantha is the first ray of light, although Lorna (from their previous film “Lorna’s Silence”) had a change of heart in the middle of her “deal” and became the savior soul. I don’t think this will mark the new trend on the Dardennes films, but it has brought the audience closer to their story, making them participate by being the saving soul.
The world has welcomed the Dardennes films because they have kept true in perpetuating their neorealism into the new century, when every filmmaker is talking about CGI and how to draw audiences using thematically repetitious stories. US audience’s think that neorealism is reality TV. Let’s hope they will catch up soon.