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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The Other Psycho

2 04 2010

Carl Boehm in 'Peeping Tom'

Two films are released this week to mark the 50th anniversary of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. The first is Psycho itself, re-released in all of its stab-happy, monochrome glory just in time for the Easter holidays. The second is Johan Grimonprez’s Double Take, a sly and elusive piece about the place of doubles both in Hitchcock’s work and in wider American culture during the Cold War.

But if Hitchcock’s most famous film is justly fêted for its innovative and visceral impact, then the work of another British director has, it seems, been overlooked. Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom was released just three months before Psycho, and covered much the same ground as the American shocker. Starring Carl Boehm and Anna Massey, it tells the story of a lonely, voyeuristic cameraman, who is obsessed with murdering women so that he can film their last moments. 

The reception that the two films received couldn’t have been more different. Hitchcock’s film played to packed houses and took a healthy 11 million dollars at the box office, while Peeping Tom was pulled from UK cinemas after just a week, in the wake of an unprecedented critical backlash.

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