Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Kid With a Bike/Rosetta

I am really happy that you watched and loved THE KID WITH A BIKE, Brandon.  It's fitting because I recently watched another Dardenne masterpiece called ROSETTA (1999) that I think you would also love.  Between these two films and THE SON, I think the Dardennes are near the top of the best directors working today.  They are the torchbearers of Bressonian spirituality and humanism in film.  Their films seem so simple on the surface, but they creep up on you with surreptitious weight and pack a profound wallop.  I can't exactly figure out why this is, but I would guess that it is because they tend to anchor their films with these subtle gestures of moral and ethical enormity.  And at the heart of each of their films they ask a question.  That question is never easily identifiable or answerable, but the significance of that question (our ability to acknowledge it and its implications) has a reverberating effect.  If we care enough, it pierces our heart.

In THE KID WITH A BIKE, we have the central question: why does Samantha take in Cyril?  It's a simple question, but it doesn't have a simple answer, and it drives our understanding of the narrative.  Ostensibly, she takes him in as a maternal act since Cyril has marked her as "mother" as soon as he latches on to her and refuses to let go.  But Cyril is not an facile child to accept responsibility for.  He's routinely been neglected and discarded; he's angry, intractable, and lashes out whenever he feels threatened.  So, why does Samantha stick with him through all the trouble he causes her?  I would argue that Samantha's choice to stick with Cyril is unknowable merely by the fact that it is given irrationaly.  Samantha's choice of Cyril is a selfless act of kindness and grace. It is an immanent grace given mysteriously and freely (even more mysterious since it is not an explicitly "moral" decision).  Our ability to understand the depth of Samantha's choice impacts our reception of the film's quiet yet unfathomable power.  If we can accept it, we feel it immeasurably.

And I think the Dardenne's want us to feel it and try to understand it.  The way they end the film suggests that Samantha's act of kindness has near spiritual proportions.  Before Cyril is attacked, we have seen him slowly and tentatively begin to accept Samantha's love and protection.  We almost feel like he has finally reformed into accepting it.  When he is attacked and nearly killed, we feel heartbroken.  We want him to get home to Samantha because we know how positive a force she is on his life.  I honestly thought the Dardennes would let Cyril die, but I should have known better.  They are much braver than this.  They let Cyril live, and it isn't a cop out or a happy ending tacked on to appease audiences, but a profound statement on redemption and resurrection.  Cyril is brought back to life by Samantha's love and kindness; he is spiritually, emotionally, and physically redeemed by it.  There is an obvious religious connection here, but also a beautiful statement on the ethics of goodness, charity, and forgiveness.  Like I said, if we accept Samantha's act of kindness and its extraordinary power, this film will humble and floor us.  I know it did me.

ROSETTA (SPOILERS ahead!) has a very similar power to it, and it also tells a complementary story.  Rosetta, like Cyril, is a neglected kid forced to fend for herself in a hash and unforgiving world.  Rosetta at least lives with her mother (she's a drunk and a mess), but she has to take care of herself and work low-paying jobs just to afford food to survive on.  And at the heart of ROSETTA is actually a similarly esoteric question to the one in A KID WITH A BIKE.  It too has profound moral and ethical significance and it asks:  why does Riquet choose to forgive Rosetta?  His decision comes right at the end of the film, so we aren't given a lot of time to see the implications of it, but we do see the look on Rosetta's face as he helps her up and it's a telling final image of potential redemption and resurrection, just like seeing Cyril rise, carry his burden, and ride off towards Samantha.  Again, this is a simple gesture: Riquet torments Rosetta until she falls down in tears and then helps her off the ground.  He has a legitimate reason to be angry at Rosetta (she betrayed him and got him fired so that she could get his job - a desperate act of survival), yet he chooses to relent and show her kindness.  It's an enriching moral and ethical lesson, and the Dardennes know just how to make the impact of it hit powerful and true.

THE SON is also intensely profound and moving, but I'll forgo talking about it because I'm still hoping I can convince some of you to watch it (still on NWI, as far as I know).  The shaky cam can be a little disorienting and annoying, but it's used for a purpose (the form matches the content beautifully, even if it is aesthetically not easy on the eyes), and once you get over it, you get captivated by the story and characters before you.  I think all of you would love these three films if you gave them a chance.  The shaky cam isn't really used in THE KID WITH A BIKE, so it's worth watching first if that's what's holding any of you up (that one's also on NWI, so watch it!).

On an unrelated note, I am beyond stoked that this is finally getting a proper release on DVD/Blu-Ray in this country:

March 26th!!

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