There's something similar to be said for the lead performance by Thomas Doret in The Kid with a Bike, the new film from Belgium's Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne. Doret, playing Cyril, betrays very little in his face, but is an astounding physical actor (apparently the Dardenne's begin their month long rehearsal process by working on the fights, clearly adding to his physicality). It is a performance of grit, determination, and grace. While a much more deeply naturalistic performance, it's steadfast determination creates an allegorical quality that reminded me of Miss Delay in Joan.
There is not the only similarity between the two films, which, while addressing two very different times and subjects, manage to explore the same things in a minimalist, and often auteurist, manner. Mr. Bresson's films commonly utilized disembodied sounds. There is a sequence in the middle of Joan when a brick flies through the window of Joan's room. The sound is unearthly, bizarre. It is not cleanly placed into the mix, as it would be in a more conventional film. The result? The sound sticks out, asking us to focus on the moment, and perhaps to consider the violence aimed at this young woman whose ideas threatened the establishment.
The Dardenne's seem to be aiming at something similar with the music cues in Kid. There are three or four music cues in the film, all placed at key moments. The music is from Beethoven's Piano Concerto No.5, and it has a rapturous quality, taking moments of tenderness and turning them into reflections on salvation. It allows us, while being deeply moved, to take a step back and reflect on the larger picture. The cues are so specifically timed, and so sparse, that they bring the film to an allegorical level, while still maintaining it's grip on realism and social relevance.
This allegorical quality can be applied to the film's later sections, as well as it's characterizations. Samantha (played by the magnificent Cecile De France), the hairdresser who takes Cyril in on weekends, is something of a blank slate: we never learn why she has chosen to do this, but we never disbelieve her affection or commitment to Cyril. The performance is specific and real enough to transcend this choice, but it's a magnificent choice: one that allows us to reflect on what goodness there might be left in the world.
Finally, the conclusion. (SPOILERS AHEAD) Once Cyril's court case is resolved, life begins to settle down. He is living with Samantha, and they spend their weekends together. One afternoon, while buying charcoal for a barbecue, Cyril encounters the father and son he attacked for the local dealer. The son chases him down and throws rocks at him while Cyril tries to escape up a tree. One makes contact, and Cyril falls to the ground. As we wait to see what has happened to Cyril, the father concocts a plan to leave them blameless in order to protect him and his son. Cyril, who has probably been concussed by his fall, awakes, and rejects a trip to the hospital. He gets on his bike and rides out of frame, and Beethoven's Piano Concerto No.5 begins to play again.
My initial response to what feels like a coda to the film was not entirely positive, but I am overall happy that this sequence was included. It's a little shaky in terms of the screenplay, but it brings a whole new depth and quality to the film's themes, namely those of grace, redemption, and the ending of negative life cycles. It also allows the film to transcend it's realism, and it reminded me of the Bresson films I admired so much. Both the Dardennes and Bresson have the ability of taking the everyday and making it transcendent.
Kid With A Bike is highly recommended. If you're interested in reading more about this, Scott Tobias did a short piece on Kid at AVCLUB this week. Be warned, It contains spoilers.