GFF 2012 - Kid With a Bike and On The Ice
Dardennes brothers film strikes a chord but Inuit thriller fails to excite
Before the Film Festival began, when talking to people about highlights, one of the picks that kept coming up was the Dardennes brothers' Kid With a Bike. The Dardennes (Jean-Pierre and Luc) are the Belgian filmmaking pair responsible for La Promesse and Rosetta, and are the darlings of Cannes, having picked up a major prize at that film festival for each and every one of their features, including, most recently, the Grand Prix for Kid With a Bike.
So, what's the film all about then? Is it about a kid, with a bike? Mais oui. The child in question is Cyril (Thomas Doret), a hyper-active but loveable, red-haired 11-year-old, who is unable to accept his father's decision to give him up to foster care. He meets young hairdresser Samantha (Cécile de France) by chance. She decides to buy Cyril back the bike which his father had sold, and, ultimately, to accept Cyril coming to stay with her at weekends.
Cyril is troubled, and the scars of abandonment aren't so easily healed. In looking for a new father figure Cyril ends up embroiled in crime and violence. In the end it takes a life-or-death moment to really clarify his future.
The Dardennes' film is very straightforward. There's scant explanation of the reasoning behind the decisions that some characters take. It's hard not to question Samantha's motives for example, but it is refreshing to see typical arthouse cinema plotlines (an unexpected friendship reveals fresh truths about life; a bad kid turns good – but will it last?) treated without any hysterical emotions.
Where you might expect some explanation or certainty about the course of events, there is none. There is little music, few telling smiles – even sunny days can prove occasions for bad things to happen. The resulting film is sparse and beautiful, if a little hollow. In being so unsentimental it isn't actually true to life (in life people wail and moan a lot more) but that hollowness allows the chaos and unfairness of events to echo more resonantly. It even makes being happy seem a simpler task.
Similarly sparse, but far less successful, is Andrew Okpeaha MacLean's On The Ice. The film is a thriller set in an Alaskan Inuit community. For the first 20 minutes things look good. A lot of the familiar tropes of US teen thrillers are apparent – drugs, parties, alcoholic parents, tested friendships – but they appear out of context as the setting isn't small town suburbia, it's a seal-hunting community established on the edge of a frozen sea, where the sun doesn't set all summer. When three young men set out for a hunting expedition early one morning only two of them come back, leaving the remaining friends to cover up the truth from the rest of the grieving townsfolk.
Unfortunately, when you get used to the stunning location, it becomes obvious these tropes aren't being used in a clever way. This is a by-the-numbers thriller, with idiosyncratic performances from its central cast, but nothing really to distinguish the filmmaking from anything else in this genre.
Still, the programme has already revealed quite a few gems. Kid With a Bike among them. Look out also for surreal Spanish feature Finisterrae showing tonight (Mon 20 Feb, 9pm) and tomorrow morning (Tue 21 Feb, 1pm).