Anyone who aspires to launch a directing career should get up from their computer right now and go out and see the Dardenne brothers latest film, “The Kid With a Bike”. It is still in theaters nation-wide, but it is in French with English subtitles, so it will be gone in a flash. This film won the Gran Prix at Cannes this year and deservedly so.
Like the five films I cited in my last blog, any aspiring filmmaker could make this film for little or no money because it is 90% people talking in rooms. The most time consuming and difficult shots in “The Kid With a Bike” are the long tracking shots of the protagonist, 11 year old Cyril, furiously pumping along on his bike, but they were all done with a handheld digital camera out of the back of a convertible, and could easily have been shot by any of my students in the film school at Chapman University. Yet, this low budget masterpiece generates as much suspense and narrative drive as a 200 million dollar studio franchise film, by getting us to identify with Cyril, and then dangling the possibility that Cyril, an unloved, abandoned child, could win, or lose, the good love of a very good surrogate mother, Samantha.
The outcome is never certain. Cyril is as prickly as they come. It is not easy for Samantha or the audience to get their arms around him. Eleven years of ricocheting between his unloving father and state-run homes have turned him into a hyper-kinetic, occasionally heartless, human pinball. But the Dardennes manage to credibly connect Cyril’s young life by a thin thread of love to the good Samantha and then dangle it over a black hole of neglect and privation. If the thread holds, he is saved. If it breaks, he is lost. The suspense is palpable. And yet it was generated almost entirely by shooting people talking in rooms. Because in this little film, like the five I cited in my last blog, what’s at stake is love, rather than life and death. For the no-budget filmmaker, love is the answer.