Unweaving The Rainbow

23 04 2012


The Kid with a Bike, Dardenne Brothers, Dardennes, Le Gamin Au Velo

'The Kid with a Bike'

Warning: like a car built in the 1980s, the article below may contain spoilers.

The latest film from the Dardenne brothers, The Kid with a Bike (Le Gamin Au Vélo), was out in UK cinemas last month. The story of a young boy’s search for parental affection after being abandoned by his feckless father, it continues the brothers’ run of intense, character-driven dramas set in the post-industrial Belgian town of Seraing, where they grew up.

A hallmark of the Dardennes’ work – perhaps even its defining feature – is their adherence to a kind of gritty but humanistic realism. They’re big fans of Britain’s Ken Loach and, like Loach, they try to present working class characters and their problems in a straightforward, unmannered way, eschewing most of the usual conventions of Hollywood-style film-making.

So although we can see that the titular kid with the titular bike (Thomas Doret) has been dealt a rough hand in life, the directors avoid sentimentalising his predicament. In fact, he spends much of the film testing the sympathy that we, and the woman who decides to care for him (Cécile de France), feel for him, attacking people who are trying to help him and getting involved in petty crime.

In general, The Kid with a Bike is powerful stuff, but one scene in particular almost ruined the film for me. Recruited by an older boy to mug a convenience store owner, the tiny Cyril (for that’s his name) rushes towards a much bigger, taller man and knocks him unconscious by swiping once at his midriff with a baseball bat. The unfortunate shopkeeper lies silent and unbloodied at Cyril’s feet, before emerging later in the film displaying none of the ill effects (bruising, mental trauma) that one might associate with having been knocked unconscious. In the same scene Cyril goes on to knock out a second person in the same way, but in the resulting legal proceedings gets off with a slap on the wrist and a fine.

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May to September

18 05 2010

Louis Malle 'Milou en mai'

'Milou en mai'

When I was fifteen

It was a very good year

A very good year for foreign films on Channel 4…


In The Wasteland TS Eliot famously wrote that ‘April is the cruellest month’. Well, I have to say, I’ve never really much agreed with him. Perhaps its the sight of the first butterflies and housemartins of the year, perhaps its the budding and blossoming of the trees, or perhaps its just that my birthday falls on the 28th of the month, but for me April’s always seemed to be a time of year full of hope; a time to start looking forward to the long hot summer ahead, or, if you’re not going away to the Med., at least to bank holiday weekends and fresh strawberries in the supermarkets.

But if April is a time of renewal then May is doubly so. May is bluebells in shady woodland groves and tentative visits to the seaside. May is fresh asparagus and cherries and that first barbecue of the year. For cinéastes May is also the month of the Cannes Film Festival: a time to be intrigued and excited by a whole new batch of fresh, nutritious world cinema.

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Talking at the Movies

15 01 2010
Eric Rohmer

'Le Rayon Vert'

Eric Rohmer, who died this week at the age of 89, made the kind of films that put a lot of people off French New Wave cinema. Eschewing formal notions of plot and dramatic structure, the director instead focused on character and, above all, on conversation. In films like Ma Nuit Chez Maud, Le Rayon Vert and his ‘tales of four seasons’, Rohmer used long, intelligent discussions between his main characters to explore certain universal themes and to lead the audience towards revelations that are on such a small – that is to say human – scale that when they arrive they might almost be missed.    

Critics of Rohmer have long dismissed his films as excessively ‘talky’. And indeed, the unprepared viewer might well be baffled and rather bored by the prospect of watching a group of middle class French people talk at length about their lives and feelings. The fact is that since the movies learned to talk, audiences have learned to search for their cinematic thrills elsewhere. Conversation is something that works well in literature, and even better in theatre, but on the screen, in excess, it risks making cinema seem downright uncinematic.

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