The Kid With A Bike

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My short review published online in One Hundred Words Magazine [no longer available]:-

The Kid With A Bike – a Special Jury Prize winner at the Cannes Film Festival – is an intense and moving story of a troubled boy, rejected by his father, whose life begins to change when he meets a caring stranger.

In a fascinating and informative post-screening Q&A, director Luc Dardenne explained how he and his brother deliberately avoid sentimentality in favour of a more realistic, authentic humanism.

It’s a strategy which results in a touching, thought-provoking film.

The Arts Picturehouse Q&A with Luc Dardenne was particularly fascinating to me because it provided such an insight into the Dardennes’ unique approach to film making, as well as some clues as to how they achieve such a strong sense of authenticity in their work. This piece in The Guardian by Anne Billson covers some of the same ground as the Q&A. Some extracts:-

[The Dardennes’] fictional work is usually pigeonholed as social realist, but despite the sense that you’re watching a naturalistic slice of life, the plotting is tightly controlled, with hardly any improvisation.

The Kid With a Bike is the story of Cyril, an 11-year-old boy whose father has dumped him in an orphanage. Help is at hand in the form of a sympathetic hairdresser called Samantha, played by Cécile de France. De France, who pulls off the not-inconsiderable feat of playing a good person who is neither cloying nor carrying a Hollywood-style backstory to explain her niceness, is probably the nearest thing to a box-office star the brothers have worked with. “Yes, Cécile is an actress everyone’s already heard of,” says Jean-Pierre, “and an excellent actress, but also a great collaborator.”

Cyril is played by Thomas Doret, who’s so persuasive in the title role of a kid who can’t keep still for a second that it’s surprising to hear he wasn’t like that in real life. “Thomas is great,” says Luc, “but the physical aspect wasn’t really his thing. He does karate, but you don’t actually touch your opponent in that. Thomas is more of an observer, he doesn’t get stuck in, so we had to do lots of things to help him get into the physical aspect of the character, rehearsing the falls and the scene with the scissors and so on… And Thomas got into the character through all these physical things.”Rehearsals are important, since it is then that the brothers work out their camera movements, which are sometimes but not always dictated by the movements of the actors; “It’s a mixture,” says Jean-Pierre. “We always rehearse in the locations where we’re going to film,” says Luc, “not in a rehearsal room.” They usually rehearse for about a month, but on The Kid With the Bike it was six weeks. “We had a 13-year-old actor who had never acted before,” says Luc. “We knew that he was talented, and we’d gone through scenes with him, so we knew he could do it, but we needed to rehearse, to be sure.”

In a scenario strewn with excuses for sentimentality – a kid, an orphanage, adult-child bonding – the Dardennes rigorously avoid it. “It’s counterproductive,” says Jean-Pierre. “The problem with sentimentality is that it kills the emotion.” To this end, they asked De France to be “a little bit cooler, a bit more reserved”, and when she did it like that, it worked. “It’s a question of rhythm,” says Jean-Pierre.

How do they collaborate on the writing and directing? “We work on the structure together,” says Luc, “and then I write the first draft, and give it to Jean-Pierre, and when I’m writing we talk on the telephone.”

Do they never argue? “Not in front of the actors!” says Luc, and they both chuckle, but he’s clearly joking; the two of them run a smooth conversational relay, completing each other’s thoughts without interrupting the other’s flow. “If the people we were working with saw that we didn’t agree,” says Jean-Pierre, “it would be difficult for them, and for us.”

“I think there’s also a sense that one completes the other,” says Jean-Pierre. “Otherwise there wouldn’t be any point in working together.”

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