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Cannes looks at the dilemmas of kids

The Cannes Film Festival, which ends on May 22, told extremely disturbing stories about children. One of them was Lynne Ramsay’s We Need To Talk About Kevin that paints the painful picture of a mother’s relationship with her son.

hollywood Updated: May 20, 2011 16:56 IST
Gautaman Bhaskaran

The Cannes Film Festival, which ends on May 22, told extremely disturbing stories about children. One of them was Lynne Ramsay’s We Need To Talk About Kevin that paints the painful picture of a mother’s relationship with her son.

Ramsay, who returns to Cannes after 13 years (she was last seen at the festival in 1999 with Ratcatcher), told a press conference that the world over, it was the mother – and not the father – who was blamed when a child went astray. And in We Need To Talk About Kevin, that is exactly what happens. The mother, played grippingly by Tilda Swinton, is even slapped on the street by a total stranger.

Gautaman Bhaskaran
Gautaman Bhaskaran
The movie has been adapted from Lionel Shriver’s bestseller that is written as a series of letters from Eva to her husband, Franklin. It is clear in the letters that she is trying to get a hold over herself after her son, Kevin, goes on a massacring spree at his high school.

Examining Nature versus nurture, the film never quite answers why Kevin turns into such a monster, though there are hints of Eva being a reluctant mother right from her pregnancy. There is one telling scene where Franklin in an admonishing way asks Eva to hold the baby close to her and rock him gently. In another sequence, we see Eva trying to drown the noise of baby Kevin’s bawling by placing his pram next to a road drilling machine.

Kevin grows from an unruly toddler to a manipulative boy/youth pretending to exhibit two different personalities – one for his father that is loving and considerate and the other towards his mother that is just the opposite. However, finally, the movie establishes a universal truth that the mother-child bond is supreme.

My point of dissatisfaction is that the movie never makes an attempt to tackle "maternal ambivalence", which was a hotly debated issue in the reviews of the book. Yet, the film has been shot splendidly, and scripted with such intelligence that we never know till the end what the tragedy really is. The plot goes back and forth, cleverly hiding the actual massacre, and in the process heightening suspense.


The Dardenne Brothers from Belgium have found a great actor in Thomas Doret, who plays their protagonist, Cyril, in The Kid With A Bike. He is 11 in the movie, and is angry, very angry, that his father has abandoned him. He finds himself in a home for boys, and during one of his desperate efforts to contact his father and retrieve his bike, he meets Samantha (Cecile de France), a hair dresser, who agrees to provide him a foster home. But playing mother to Cyril is not easy, and after a couple of twists and turns, the film in its final moments is quietly satisfying.

The Kid With A Bike is a revelation of sorts, for it conveys that the most extraordinary stories are happening right outside our front doors, and the Dardenne Brothers give us an engrossing account of one such through sparse frames and very few words. There is but little music -- brief notes of Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto to draw us into an emotionally charged scene or two. This no-frills recounting of events translates into powerful cinema, proving that verbosity and unnecessary garnishing of frames can be awfully counterproductive.

One writer compares The Kid With The Bike to Charles Dickens’ literature, more specifically to his minimalist Oliver Twist. The Kid… seems to be a modern version of this great classic.


Markus Schleinzer’s Austrian entry, Michael in the Festival’s competition is a scary work about paedophilia: that such men exist in the midst of us, mingling with us as very ordinary folks. There is little indication of their warped personalities.

Michael (essayed with quiet dignity by Michael Fuith) is 35, and the man next door, balding, unimpressive and literally a stranger to his neighbours. Early on in the movie, we see Michael returning from work, carrying the shopping bags, preparing the dinner and laying the table. It is only when he opens the door to his underground cellar that we realise 10-year-old David (David Rauchenberger) is a prisoner there.

Interestingly, Michael acts as a loving parent to David, giving him a haircut, allowing him to watch television and even taking him out to a zoo. Michael in many ways is that perfect gentleman, but with that evil gene that forces him to sexually ravish little boys.

The performances are highly commendable and extremely plausible, and the director ensures that there is not one frame which can push the movie into a vulgar exercise. Happily, he dismisses the molestation of the boy through a couple of subtle scenes. It is a responsible work that looks at a frightening form of exploitation with utmost sensitivity.

Schleinzer has worked as a casting director on more than 60 films and says that his work with children for Michael Haneke’s The White Ribbon gave him the confidence to make his first feature. Haneke’s influence is clearly discernable in Michael, devoid as it of emotions or sentimentality. Almost squeakily antiseptic in its look.

(Gautaman Bhaskaran has been covering the Cannes Film Festival for over 20 years)