Monday, October 24, 2011

Philadelphia Film Fest #5: The Kid with a Bike

The house was packed for this and I arrived late so I had to sit in the front, the first time I've ever watched a movie from the front row - it's really not that bad; try it if you never have before. It was more relaxing than I thought and I felt way more immersed in the screen as I wasn't distracted by bright EXIT signs and people leaving their chairs to take a shit from eating 2 tubs of popcorn (the trick is to sit at the end of the row, so you can lean up against the wall and fully relax).

Sadly, I was unable to get my fix for the Hollywood blockbuster by the Fest's strange decision to cancel Sunday's screening of Roland Emmerich's Anonymous, so instead of learning about the mastery of the English language, I was stuck seeing yet another film from France - that would be the Dardenne Bros' The Kid with a Bike.

From the trailer, the film looked like it could be bittersweet bullshit, so sitting in the theater I was hoping someone would introduce it by telling us more about it. The introducer, a man, the chancellor of the Fest or something, basically pumped us up by saying it was a "darling at Cannes!" and "this film won't come out for months!" And that was it. I mean, come on, tell me about the film, please. I'd especially like to learn who are the Dardenne Bros and about their previous work.

Well, the audience seemed enthused so I suppose that was enough for me. It's always nice to be part of a well-tuned crowd of people.

Oftentimes when I watch films with strong leading men and if the film is really good I leave the theater and spend the next few days practicing how to be like those men until ultimately I fail and give up - the beautiful thing about cinema, tho, is that with more films, I can always be offered more chances to emulate the strength I see in others, even if they are only fake people living in a fake world; this encouragement is one of the main things I enjoy receiving from cinema. I'm glad to say Kid with a Bike has been one of those films for me, although this time I was inspired not by a leading man, but by a little boy with a bike who's roughly half my age.

The strength in this character is extraordinary by itself. Frankly, I'm a bit frustrated with kid characters in other movies, to always have to see them resorted to side roles that barely mean anything, as the kid is either weak and defenseless or extremely uninteresting; other times, when the kid is in a lead role like in a kid's film (I don't even know why I'm going to critique this but I will) the kid is just an over-the-top asshole.

What a great thing Kid with a Bike has done - make an adult film with a little boy in the lead, strong-willed, determined and looking for answers, extremely independent and frequently defends himself against any opposition, all for the sake of realistic goals that nobody can blame him for trying to reach; it reminded me of my own childhood (although I wasn't half the man this kid is) but as the film is handled with maturity I watch it at 23-years-old and think nothing less than what this kid means to me now. I was reminded of how heavily I cried during De Sica's The Children Are Watching Us - the lead boy's quest in that film not dissimilar from Kid with a Bike; thru all tribulations, the emotion felt on my behalf is only caused by the reality of the boy's struggle, as each event puts our boy in more danger but which makes him more determined. Credit especially goes toward Thomas Doret who played the kid with a bike; it takes a concentrated actor to pull off such a busy part - this youngster had done so very well and could go on to become a very interesting actor.

It's certainly not the bittersweet bullshit I expected. The Dardenne Bros seem more interested in straightforward storytelling, and as someone unfamiliar with their work, I'm glad this has been the film to introduce me, as I thoroughly enjoyed the simplicity of their style.

I loved the use of music, a good example of the film's simple nature. It's never really used during scenes to make you cry or feel anything toward what's happening on screen, it's basically only used during transitions, and only several times thru the entire film, and it's only ever one song - that is Beethoven's "Emperor Concerto," and what we hear of it is only a few beautiful bars at a time; pitch perfect notes of the violin.

The camera moves just as the characters do, but thru all the numerous chase scenes, I never feel the need to throw up, never once feel like the director is grabbing my collar and shaking me until my head feels as tho it's about to pop; the action is captured with competence, steady but never leaving the pandemonium of the moment, very keen and lean, a fantastic use of [steadicam], brings us into the hectic pace of it all without causing nausea, only causing what's important - intrigue. Moments of serenity are another occasion, the most notable being a single shot that comes toward the end, where the kid is riding his bike at night - down the street he goes, the camera right there beside, persistently following his speed, the background perfectly blurred, the kid stands out as he flies thru space, the only noise coming from the bike's gears. We watch this for about a half minute. It's goddamn beautiful.

I like this film. Sure, there's not that much of a heavy meaning here, and it's really nothing De Sica and other filmmakers haven't already explored, but the compentency of Kid with a Bike offers what I thought was an enjoyable experience to live this boy's life for an hour and half, even if it's undesirable how some of his days progress, it's no matter, I escaped into this world and it's left me thinking about life in general, always a good thing.

- Jon Seidman

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