The Kid with a Bike (Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne, 2011). This is the first film by the Dardenne brothers that I have seen, and it was intriguing without ever really capturing my heart. Normally that’s not a problem for me … I don’t necessarily watch movies so I can have a good cry … but The Kid with a Bike invites us into the life of the titular kid in a way that should work well for empaths. Which I fear doesn’t describe me. I felt a distance from the film, even though it was intimate, because I didn’t connect with “The Kid” until it was too late. He has a hard life, abandoned by his father, and his moods swing wildly from aggression to simply shutting down. I recognize the tendencies, but for much of the film, I found the Kid irritating. Which he was, but he had his reasons, and the Dardennes do a good job of helping us understand his perspective. Ultimately, the movie is likely better than I thought. Cécile de France is wonderful as a woman who takes the kid under her wings, and I liked the way the directors lived in the present … there were no scenes explaining what had happened in the past, so we never knew why de France’s character gravitated towards the kid, or why (other than the father abandonment) the kid was so screwed up. It was all matter of fact, and quite believable. 7/10.
Children of Paradise (Marcel Carné, 1945). I avoided this film for a long time, ever since I was first aware of it, which was probably 40 years ago. It was an acknowledged classic, yet the idea of spending more than three hours watching a French movie that featured a key performance by a mime just seemed too, too precious. Perhaps it’s lucky that I waited, for a couple of years ago, the film went through an extensive reconstruction, and it looks beautiful now, much more than it would have in years past. The first part of the film establishes a marvelous milieu of theater folks and regular people in Paris in the 19th century, while bringing special attention to bear on five main characters: four men who pursue the same woman, and the woman herself, Garance. The second part of the movie isn’t exactly darker than the first … it is still informed by a knowing love of the theater … but as it reaches its conclusion, 190 minutes after it began, all of the various permutations of the four men and the woman have been digested, discarded, and devoured once again. You can’t say Children of Paradise has a happy ending, nor does it quite end on a cliffhanger note. But when it’s over, you already want to watch a sequel, or a prequel, or just watch the same movie once again. Two performances stand out. Jean-Louis Barrault plays the mime, Baptiste, and from his first scene, he breaks down the barriers between his performance and audience members like myself who aren’t very fond of pantomime. Barrault also speaks … he is a mime on stage, but off stage he is just another actor in love … his romantic idealism is extremely touching, even though it doesn’t make him any happier in the end than any other character. And there is Arletty as Garance. Arletty was in her late-40s when she made Children of Paradise, and she has the same combination of beauty, intrigue, sexuality, and knowingness that we see from Danielle Darrieux in The Earrings of Madame de …. It is easy to see why so many men think they are in love with Garance. There is another actress in the play, Maria Casares, making her film debut, and Casares, who was 23, is a fine beauty (unrelated trivia, but I can’t help mentioning that she had a long romantic relationship with Albert Camus). When she looks into the eyes of Baptiste, and sees that he loves Garance, she is hurt, but she also accepts the situation, as if even she understands that no one is immune to Arletty’s presence. #53 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 films of all time. 10/10.