Friday, September 30, 2011


Cast: Thomas Doret, Cécile de France
Director: The Dardennes
Runtime: 87 min.
Country: Belgium
Language: French
Verdict: Wish it were real.
Genre: Drama

        Samantha (Ms. France) is driving Cyril (Mr. Doret) to meet his father, who seems to have, by the looks of it, abandoned him in a children’s home. He is a silent fellow, this Cyril, a 11-year old with a gangly sort of presence and it sort of reminds us of the younger Jack in The Tree of Life. He is tough too, not wanting to betray any sense of emotional weakness, and when Samantha cautions him that his meeting with his father might not pan out the way he dreams it would, he quite stoically replies he isn’t dreaming. The Dardennes capture this exchange through a shot-reverse-shot routine, and with Cyril sitting deep towards right the gap between the driver’s seat and the passenger’s seat couldn’t have been wider, seemingly tough to bridge. Or let us say, tough to get through this little kid. Samantha looks at the kid. She asks him if he needs some water, and he replies, with the same stoic formality – “Yes, please”. She picks up the bottle and extends it to him, the camera following this action, and Cyril grabs it with an obligatory “thank you”, and Samantha tries to break in through this connection by playfully pulling the bottle, and the kid responds shedding his guard and doing some pulling himself. It is all without a single edit, from Samantha to Cyril back to Samantha, and the gap has been bridged. And In times like these where Belgium is fourth in line, a fascinating observation has been made. An observation of what, one might ask? I don’t know, what do we call stuff like a soft-drink can, or a bottle of mineral water, or a bottle of peach juice, or a packet of paprika, or a gamestation’s handle, or a football, or a movie, or barbecue in the backyard. In our consumer culture we usually seek their service to serve our guests, or make new friends, right? Sort of disposable, but valuable disposables, wherein the value is directly proportional to the relationship we’re serving, or making. Like chewing gum. Or biscuits. It is quite remarkable the way The Dardennes build their film around these objects, these commodities, or let us call them valuable disposables shall we until you supply me with a more appropriate term. Everyone here has one of these valuable disposables to offer, to make an emotional connection, to show an act of kindness, or an act of affection, or an act of manipulation. Little Cyril is innocent enough and pure enough to respond to them, to believe in these gestures, and in his turn even consider a few thousand Euros just the same. The humanity in the Dardennes’ new film believes in these gestures, these gestures of a fairly pragmatic world where both the pleasant and the unpleasant co-exist.
        Starving for the warmth of a hug, or at least some contact, what other option does Cyril have? Having bunked his school to try and find his father at his old apartment, with the caretakers from the children’s home right behind him, C runs into a clinic and latches onto a young woman. It’s Samantha, but we don’t know her then yet, and she only asks him to not grab so tight. So unsurprised and yielding is she, that stranger, readily providing her body as some kind of tree trunk for little Cyril to hold on to and so pure is that moment in its humanity I wish she weren’t Samantha and we never ever got to know her, and that Le Gamin au vélo was not so much of a fairy tale, where people weren’t Leigh Anne Tuohy and were capable of love without wanting to gain some sort of satisfaction from it. A moment where Samantha is crying is telling, in ways more than one, and one might even question who has come into whose life. . But then, I wouldn’t forget Cyril finally giving in and hug Samantha.
        There’s a certain degree of ambiguity Ms. France’s (High Tension, Mesrine, Hereafter)presence lends to the proceedings, and most of it has to do with how stunningly beautiful she is, and how difficult would it be for somebody like Cyril to hold himself from going all Malena on her, especially after watching her naked body sleeping. The Dardennes, in their turn, take great care to not frame Ms. France below her hemline, and not let our attention wander. Or maybe it does, and I did wonder once or twice how long that skirt was. Oh, but Cyril isn’t no Renato, and he is way wiser. He does understand a whole lot more than he would like us to believe, even accumulating guilt, and he sure as hell does understand there are doors he better not try to open. Sure, some he can, but others he better not. He is composed, remarkably composed, almost at peace in the film’s final moment. Learnt his lesson has this sweet boy, learnt his lesson that life is not all sweet.

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