Cannes 2011: The Kid with a Bike, Michael and Goodbye
Sun May 15 2011
The Kid with a Bike: Cannes favorites Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne make the kind of films that inspire genuine genuflection and near-religious experiences (Rosetta, The Son, L'Enfant); anything less than a shaft of divine light coming down from the heavens after seeing a new entry from the Belgian siblings runs the risk of making it seem a lesser work by comparison. Their tale of an abandoned boy (newcomer Thomas Doret, amazing) in an emotional free fall has it moments, especially in the exchanges between the titular kid and his awkward wastrel of a pop (Dardenne regular Jrmie Renier), and within the push-pull relationship with the woman (Ccile de France) who takes him in. But it's undeniably a slight slice of humanism whether you stack it up against the greatest Dardenne hits or take the movie on its own merits, especially once Doret's feral youth falls in with the local dope dealer and gets coerced into some illegal doings. The soulfulness is there, but the usual aesthetic rigor isn't, which makes all the difference in terms of their metaphysical modus operandi. Still, The Kid with a Bike's upbeat ending (for them, at least) suggests some sort of corner is being turned.
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Michael: Seriously, what the hell are they putting in Austria's water supply?!? The country that gave us Ulrich Seidl, Jessica Hausner and Michael Haneke now offers up us this stark, chilly portrait of a pedophile (Michael Fuith) keeping a young boy captive in his basement. Making his filmmaking debut, casting director Markus Schleinzer presents this horrific tale of a neat-freak, normal-seeming predator with maximum po-faced directness; you may insert your own reference to the Hannah Arendt quote about the "banality of evil" now. Those who find the cruel-to-be-kind cine-anthropology of the aforementioned Haneke, the obvious influence here, will have conniption fits five minutes into the story, and though it's an easy film to admire, it's a damned hard film to like. This competition title was cryptically described in the schedule and given only one screening, creating an instant buzz via exclusivity. We walked in cold, and those of us who weren't booing or passionately applauding at the end didn't know what hit us.
B Omid Didar (Goodbye): Sentenced to a six-year jail term alongside with fellow Iranain auteur Jafar Panahi for inciting "political protest" in Iran and faced with a 20-year ban on filmmaking, director Mohammad Rasoulof did what most of us would do: quickly made a movie on the sly before he was imprisoned. This tale of a pregnant female lawyer (Leyla Zareh) in search of a clandestine exit visa for herself and her fugitve husband mirrors Rasoulof's story to an alarming degree, and its portryal of the country as a perpetually gray wasteland run by government thugs is a case study in national paranoia. It's also easily one of the best things I've seen at the fest, and the joy of seeing such a strong work here is only offset by the depressing fact that this gesture of dissent is being screened without its creator present. A "secret" work codirected by Panahi is also being unvelied at the fest next week. Kudos, Cannes.