Thursday, October 27, 2011

French Cinema Now 
Series Starts Tonight

The San Francisco Film Society's annual survey of contemporary French films kicks off tonight, with screenings taking place until November 2 at either the Embarcadero Cinema or the SFFS | New People Cinema. Click here for all the info on the films, showtimes and tickets.

Eleven new films are on the schedule and I have seen just one, "The Kid with a Bike", and it's fantastic, but then again, it's the latest work from Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne so there is no question it's of high cinematic quality.

"The Kid with a Bike" follows a young teenage boy named Cyril abandoned by his selfish father to a government-run foster care program, determined to win back the attention and care of his parent. Combining influences of Cassavetes-like social realism and Bressonian sympathy for characters on the edge, we follow Cyril on his bike getting into trouble with a local thug and the cops.

He eventually is befriended by a kind no-nonsense hairdresser, Samantha, who allows Cyril to spend weekends with her before she agrees to serve as his foster parent. Samantha love and attention are initially not strong enough to set Cyril on the right path and he wanders into committing a crime involving assault and robbery.

As in all films by the Dardenne brothers, the situations faced by their characters are bleak and full of despair, and this new work is no different except for the first time they use music on the soundtrack, a mournful snippet from Beethoven that conveys a flicker of hope for Cyril.

There were scenes between Cyril and Samantha that had me on the verge of tears, because of the emotional rawness on the screen and the understated performances. It's never made clear why she endures all the constant grief, pain and expenses associated with caring for the boy.

Is Samantha acting on her maternal instincts, or does she help Cyril out of some primal urge to help a younger person deeply in need of adult supervision and love? That is a question to think about when I catch this excellent film a second time, during its commercial run early in 2012.

You can see "The Kid with a Bike" during the French Cinema Now mini-festival on October 28 at 7 pm and also on October 30 at 4:30 pm. Both showings are at the New People Cinema on Post Street near Webster. More info is available here.

(Photo illustration: Thomas Doret and Cecile de France riding bikes in a scene from the film. Credit: San Francisco Film Society.)

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