Editor’s Note: The following review is part of our coverage of the Cork Film Festival. For more information on the festival visit corkfilmfest.org or follow the Cork Film Festival on Twitter at @CorkFilmFest.
That Kid’s closing credits include the dedication “a hug for” is fitting; few won’t feel the need for one as this exceptional Flemish film concludes. An equally apt title might be Kid without a Bike: director Fien Troch displays a certain style shared with her nation’s most famous cinematic successes, yet the stark sensibility she gradually comes to conceive makes the Dardennes seem positively precious by contrast. This is a marvellous movie, pushing the conventions of child-centric cinema just far enough to seduce audiences into a secure state. Troch’s is a tremendous talent; at once exploiting the ease with which we fall prey to kiddish cuteness and refusing to pander to the ensuing demand for easy conclusion, she delivers with her third feature as accurate a portrait of corrupted childhood as we’ve had in years.
This is a marvellous movie, pushing the conventions of child-centric cinema just far enough to seduce audiences into a secure state.
Bent Simons’ brilliant debut performance as the eponymous youth is the film’s essence, establishing its normalcy with such sweetness before his understated evolution takes hold. Sparkling at the start, his eyes soon seem almost sunken into his face; the brightness of the boy we first meet burns out, replaced by a broken stare; happiness turns to hollowness. Yet to see Simons’ face as before and after images would be to observe the same visage: such is the strength of this behavioural change, this temperamental transformation taking Kid from one character to another without really changing anything at all. This is astonishing acting by any standards, let alone those of a child making his first film appearance.
It’s the intimate effect of enacting so seismic a shift in so subtle a way to ask whether Kid’s eventual apathy isn’t inherent in children, just waiting to be pulled forth by the poisons of life. The joie de vivre in him that dies in the course of the story’s slow chronicling of his and his older brother’s relationship with their single mother seems so signposted in even his name that it’s perhaps inevitable that it be lost. That’s certainly the suggestion of the omnipresent and ominous score, whose foreboding notes permeate even the movie’s earliest moments of comedy as only children can create it. Even as we laugh we understand the ugly impermanence of these amiable antics; childhood, so starkly surrounded, has to sooner or later come crashing to a halt.
Troch’s symmetry is less for style than it is for subjecting her tragic hero to a formal confinement reflective of his future, where youthful randomness gives way to regimented existence.
The music is emblematic of Troch’s impeccable control, which extends equally to an aesthetic approach not unlike that of Wes Anderson. There’s a hint of Moonrise Kingdom to the film’s opening, albeit one added only to encroach upon that idyllic impression of childhood with the regardless spectre of reality that defines this one. Troch’s symmetry is less for style than it is for subjecting her tragic hero to a formal confinement reflective of his future, where youthful randomness gives way to regimented existence. Troch’s realism, then, is of the poetic variety; if it’s that, it’s a lament, a wearied and weathered cry for the childhood that dies before our eyes, a heartbroken hymn—like the many that grace the soundtrack—to the lost vibrancy of youth.
But it’s not only Kid who grows progressively less suited to that name; it’s the generation for which he stands, and the wider social circumstances—present, never pushed—to which the story speaks. It’s our species at large, how financial and familial worries strip us of the optimism we start out seeing everywhere in the world. It’s life, and how the summers that once seemed to wane on for years finally fade until they’re gone forever. From the offbeat amusement on which it opens to the terrible implications of the shot on which it opts to conclude, Kid is as a wake for hope, a supremely unsentimental coming-of-age tale whose extremity attests the abrupt end of all we once were, and the unwilling embrace of all we’ll ever be.
[notification type=”star”]88/100 ~ GREAT. Kid is as a wake for hope, a supremely unsentimental coming-of-age tale whose extremity attests the abrupt end of all we once were, and the unwilling embrace of all we’ll ever be.[/notification]