What can be said about the Dardenne brothers that five Cannes awards don't already say much more definitively? Even a mediocre splotch in their oeuvre is twelve notches above most other contemporary films that get paraded around on the blogosphere.
But our nose is getting a little brown so we'll just leave it at this: "The Kid with a Bike" is another ridiculously strong entry in an already highly consistent body of work (read our review here). Using their signature no-bullshit aesthetic, the Gallic duo set their eyes upon a young boy with behavioral problems. After being sent to an orphanage by his father, Cyril (Thomas Doret) finds comfort in hairdresser Samantha (Cecile De France), who crosses paths with him after he runs away from the child services establishment. The woman's sympathy leads to her taking him in on the weekends, but as she spends more time with Cyril, she realizes that she may be in over her head. 'Kid,' heavily indebted to Maurice Pialat's fantastic debut "The Naked Childhood," is an uncomfortable journey with an unpredictable youth ready to explode at any minute. It's always engagingly nerve-wracking, and although Cyril can be rather bratty and frustrating, the Dardennes never give up on him. In turn, neither does the audience.
In addition to the Q&A they held after the screening at the New York Film Festival (which we recapped here), the directing pair were nice enough to sit down with The Playlist for a one-on-two interview where we spoke about the bike's importance, actors that are big fans, and their joyful sense of humor. Beware, there are mild spoilers ahead.
Yes, every kid rides a bike, but something about the familiar two-wheeler really spoke to the filmmakers more than anything else. "We knew he was going to be an abandoned child, and right away we saw him with a bike without fenders, without a luggage carrier/basket. The bike of someone who is alone and solitary -- also, he would be able to exercise his violence on it," Jean-Pierre explained. "It was also his friend -- much like, say, a dog. Eventually it evolved and we used it for the story between Cyril and his father, it was the link for Cyril and Samantha…in a way, it helped build the story."
The two not only place a lot of importance in their locations (often visiting them in varying stages of pre-production), but in their characters' choice of employment. Originally, the main character in "The Son" was to be a cook -- but when they couldn't imagine that world, they set him up as a carpenter and everything fell into place. Similarly, de France's character had a number of false starts before finally settling as a hairdresser. "Samantha came out of another script, and for that she was a doctor. But we felt that a doctor is already someone in the caring profession, and that was too heavy-handed for this movie. We always saw her in some sort of retail position…We never saw her as an electrician, for instance, or a plumber," they laughed. "That might be a generational thing."
But what was it about that specific vocation? "We always saw her as a kind of person that had a relationship with the exterior of the neighborhood. Hairdresser worked for that. It was also good to have her as that because of that space. There's kind of intermediary space: it's not entirely a public place and not entirely a private place. Then you had Samantha's private space. So we always thought of somebody that had two spaces," they explained.
In stark contrast to their hard-hitting, dramatic work, the Belgian siblings often take on a light, playful demeanor when speaking with the press and their fans. Their personalities are so spirited that it's a wonder that they haven't tackled something in the same vein, which lead us to wondering if that would ever be of any interest to them. "Maybe, maybe…but it's difficult to construct a comedy with actors...often in a comedy, the director is a comedian/actor too," to which we pointed at Luc (who Jean-Pierre claimed was the funnier one) and suggested it be him.
"Funny story," he began, "I've been going to the same bakery since 1998, and every time I place my order with the employee, she laughs. If they have another girl that waits on me, she laughs! I don't know why! One time I asked 'Excuse me, why are you laughing? Is there something on my face, or something else?' And she replied simply, 'I don't know why I'm laughing!' So..." Luc threw his arms into the air. Well, sounds like a potential script to us! Someone give Happy Madison a ring.
Those acquainted with their output should kind of expect a certain kind of ending -- one that at first feels abrupt (sometimes shockingly so) but, after some thought, seem like a carefully devised punctuation to everything that came before it. 'Bike' operates in the same fashion -- though the team had their reservations at one point.
"We did, at one point, wonder if we should shoot the barbecue scene," Jean-Pierre admitted. "But we honestly never felt the need for it. What we ultimately shot seemed to be enough, even though we can't say for sure since we never ended up shooting that. Once he got back on his bike and was carrying his sack of coal, that was efficient. Also, because of the importance of the bike in the story, it felt right to end with it."
A Number Of Actors -- Including Holly Hunter -- Want To Work With Them.
Lugging around a sack of Cannes awards has to catch the attention of Hollywood in some shape or form. Big time studios haven't exactly been courting the brothers for an Oscar-bait or tent-pole franchise, but they did mention that some rather famous American thespians were interested in a potential future collaboration. "We can't say who in particular, because we may work with them, we don't know. It's up to them to say," Luc respectfully stated. "Though one we can say because she had mentioned it before in a long interview…Holly Hunter." Huh, how about that. Truthfully we can't imagine a known face in one of their roles (maybe because of their penchant for framing the back of someone's head), but if it ever actually comes to fruition we'll be first in line.
"The Kid with a Bike" is open in limited release now.