The Dardenne Brothers Hit NYFF ’11 And Talk Casting, Scoring & More
Are there any filmmakers as consistent as our favorite Belgian siblings the Dardenne Brothers? While they won’t break any box office records, every instalment of the arthouse duo’s output (though as per request and general lack of accessibility, we forget anything pre-1995) is generally a critical and cinephile darling, not to mention it probably holds an award from the prestigious Cannes Film Festival. And their newest offering, “The Kid With A Bike,” is a home run.
Taking its influence from Maurice Pialat’s “L’enfance nue,” the film follow a young trouble-making orphan (Cyril, played by Thomas Doret) recently abandoned in a children’s home by his father, who promises to only leave him for a month. After time has passed, the youth escapes the grounds in search of the patriarch at his former apartment complex but instead discovers his bicycle is gone and the child services workers are on his tail. An accidental run-in with hairdresser Samantha (Cécile De France) bestows Cyril with a fan: she is so taken with the child that she not only gets his wheels back for him, she even agrees to take him in every weekend. But even Samantha’s love doesn’t annihilate the child’s irrational bad behavior, which starts to compound into something dangerous.
While the team hasn’t really shaken up their style since “The Promise” (though you’ll find wider lenses employed in their more recent pictures), they still continue to score big with their observational style and compelling characters. The pair swung by the New York Film Festival to chat with the audience in support of their latest film and spoke about a few things including their use of music and the original title of the film.
1. The Film Contains A Surprising Use Of Music From Usually Spartan Pair
After not using non-diegetic music in their films for more than ten years, the directors shocked everyone when their 2008 flick “Lorna’s Silence” featured song accompaniment. For ‘Kid’ they push this even further, incorporating a brief score into very specific moments throughout the film. “The music is almost a caressing that comes at certain times in the movie to try to appease Cyril,” Luc explained. “It’s not a music that’s born out of the film. We tried to make it something that is a little bit above it on a different plane. It brings what is missing for Cyril, love.” Will we see a Feist music video by these guys within the next ten years? Start placing your bets.
2. Thomas Doret Was One Of Their First Auditions, But The Directors Still Saw 150 More Contenders
Yes, we’re bombarded with casting lists nearly every day and roles in studio flicks have lines of ambitious actors out the door — but these auteurs do things differently. When not picking from their usual pool of talent (their past two features even squeezed in cameos by “The Son” actor Olivier Gourmet), they will select non-actors without considering any sort of restrictions (‘Lorna’ lead Arta Dobroshi didn’t know any French before being cast) and are known to have an interesting audition processes (apparently they knew they wanted Morgan Marinne for “The Son” because he woke up the most realistically). Their reasoning for casting the fantastic Doret isn’t any less perceptive. “We made him do the first scene where he calls his father and he doesn’t answer. Both of us felt that when he grabbed the phone and waited for an answer, there was such a particular concentration in his face that he created an existence for this invisible man,” Jean-Pierre stated. “We knew he was it, but then we saw another 150 boys,” he said with a groan, which had everyone sharing a laugh. “You have to do it out of conscience.”
3. This Is Their Most Fairy Tale-Like Film
We’re not sure if it’s just us or not, but the last thing that comes to mind when watching a Dardenne film is its relation to a fairy tale. This might have something to do with the fact that they’re heavily anchored in realism or the fact that we opt not to parallel art-house flicks with a boy and a growing beanstalk. But some audiences have seen the parallel, and the directors had plenty to say on this topic. “We’ve seen that before, for example, the titular character in ‘Rosetta‘ would be dressed in red and it reminded us of ‘Little Red Riding Hood,’ she would be in the woods, etc. But this one is maybe the closest to a fairy tale because the characters are the simplest. Samantha is the good witch, the evil is in the woods, etc.”
They expounded, “Even if we don’t caricature Cyril, he’s a pretty simple person and we tell the story of a boy who’s going to lose a very big illusion – his father doesn’t want to see him anymore. It’s also a story of an apprenticeship where the boy has to rid himself of illusions, so that’s what he goes forth and does.”
4. The Original Title “Pitbull” Was Declined By Distributors
Midway through the story, Cyril falls into a gang of young hoods that brand him with the nickname “pitbull” due to his fighting nature and penchant for using his pearly whites in battle. The name struck a chord with the writer/directors so much that they decided to make it the title, which quickly changed to something more straight-forward when the distributors shook their heads.
“They heard the original name and said dismissively… ‘No, no.’ They nixed it, it was not any good, especially for the female public.” There was a pause, and Jean-Pierre clarified with a laugh. “That’s what they said! So we changed it. They weren’t okay with “Kind Pitbull” either.”
5. The Plot Was Inspired By A Japanese Boy The Directors Learned About While Promoting “The Son”
In the early days, the Dardenne brothers cut their teeth on documentaries focusing on the working class in Belgium. Because of this, many of the characters they choose to follow in their fiction are of the same milieu — except for ‘Kid,’ which finds its roots in a Japanese child the two had heard of almost a decade ago.
“We were there in 2002 to present ‘The Son’ and a judge for youth told us about a child in Tokyo that she had taken care of that did some bad things when he became an adult. She also relayed a story about a child whose mother had died and was abandoned by his father. His father had told him he’d come back, and he never had, and he waited for his dad for years and years.” Sound familiar yet? “So when we came back, my brother and I talked a lot about this child and then we ended up creating the character Cyril. However every character we create we always place them back in this place. The Japanese Connection!” Luc quipped.