The Belgian brothers talk The Kid with a Bike and why they'd never say no to 3D.
Belgium's finest sibling auteurs, Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne are back with The Kid with a Bike, a bittersweet tale of youthful angst and human compassion. It's been four years since LWLies first met up with the Dardennes for our The Silence of Lorna issue, and the conversation was equally breezy when we caught up with them recently.
LWLies: What’s your film that you've seen recently?
Jean-Pierre Dardenne: An Iranian film called A Separation. It’s very complex. It’s very much alive as a film. And the little girl draws you into it. It’s drawn you into a living situation.
Luc Dardenne: When you’re watching it, you get the feeling that there’s a huge freedom there on the screen. That it’s not all completely choreographed and worked on. Whereas, actually, it is. There’s this feeling as if it were a first film and I like that. And in this world where so much we think there’s us an others, it makes a change to see a bit of communication with the East.
The Kid With A Bike feels like a more hopeful film that usual. Is that true?
Luc: It’s true! It’s actually what we wanted, which is why we chose to film in the summer. Because of that light and the warmth of the sun. The character of Samantha also epitomises all that in terms of warmth and openness. And yes, the ending is brighter than our previous films.
Why this move toward the light?
Luc: I don’t know... We are getting older. Our lives haven’t changed that much. We haven’t seen the light. Maybe it’s my eyesight! We’re telling the story of a child who’s suffering so much because of his father and somehow we have to save him. We have to help him. So we tried to find a story where love would transcend and be stronger than fear, violence and abandonment. Why? I don’t know.
Is it more positive than your previous films?
Jean-Pierre: Yes, compared to La Promesse, where the character of Igor leaves with Assita, you feel happy for them but it’s not the same. Possibly the brightness comes from Cyril, the child, who you think might die. With the Dardenne brothers, everything is possible. So the ending is all the more brighter because of that.
Do you think there’s too much pessimism in the world?
Luc: We’re always thought there’s a certain conformism in this acceptance that this is the way things are. But we’ve never been desperate. The world hasn’t ended. There’s still so many things to do, to change, to make better.
How did you discover the young actor who plays Cyril?
Jean-Pierre: We did casting, of course. He was the fifth on the first day. With each kid, we used the first scene of the film. And when he held the phone, even though there was no one there, we really believed he was waiting and waiting and that he wanted his father to answer. So all this potential was there.
How can you tell when you’ve found a special actor?
Jean-Pierre: The fact that you have someone in front of you that’s there. A very, very strong presence. An interior presence. This has to be there from the beginning. If the actor doesn’t have this inner life, profession or non-profession, then you’re wasting your time.
What’s the secret to working with child actors?
Luc: In real life, he’s 13. You can’t show him things to do it again and re-learn, because then it becomes imitation. A child imitating something. You have to give children freedom. You can’t direct them with narrow guidance. So we can orientate him and give him directions, but a lot came from him. We stole a lot from him! More than we would from a profession actor. Like vampires!
Actors can’t give bad performances in your films. What’s your secret?
Luc: I think whether it’s professional or non-professional, you have to spend a long time working with your actor. So that the image he or her has of himself can break. A non-professional actor will have an image of herself. For example, if we said to an actress, 'You’re going to wear wellies.' And she said, 'No, in real life, you don’t wear wellies in town!' It’s the same if it’s a professional actress who has a technique and knows how to hold herself to hide something, because she doesn’t like the angle of her bum or whatever. That too has to be taken away. They have to drop all that.
Jean-Pierre: Directors, actors, the crew, they spend so much time producing images that people are going to like. And that’s what you have to break. And this idea that if the actor is happy, everything is going to work well. No. It’s not about that.
Might we ever see a 3D Dardenne brothers film?
Luc: Why not?
Luc: Why? Technically, I don’t always see the difference, apart from very specific moments when an animated bird leaps out in the foreground. I get a little bit scared! Maybe Jurassic Park would be even more scary in 3D. I find that I prefer cinema to remain non-real with 2D. It’s to do with fiction – and also maybe my age – but I feel that that’s the role of cinema.
Do you have any life ambitions outside of cinema?
Jean-Pierre: Oh... I don’t have any ambition. I hope we can make a new film. And that’s my only ambition. We always find it quite hard to start. It’s nice when we start worrying about how we’re going to film certain things. But that worry is positive, because otherwise life is quite boring. That said, sometimes we really don’t feel like doing it! But life is all the better for me for doing films.
What’s your favourite film of your own?
Luc: The next one! No, the one we never made and will never make.
Is there a film you’ve always been longing to make?
Jean-Pierre: No. Everything we’ve wanted to do that’s realisable has been done. But there are impossible things to be done!
Luc: We have a project that goes around our family and our childhood, and maybe someday we’ll do that. A period movie! A less structured and constructed film. Like the Coen brothers’ A Serious Man. I don’t know if that film was a success or not but, as brothers, they spoke about their father. And I think that’s a good thing.