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March 12, 2012


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i got misty-eyed too-- their use of the beethoven was really moving, wasn't it? everything's so tense and relentless, and then there are these little oases.


Regarding Jeff Daniels in THE SQUID AND THE WHALE, unquestionably the latter, and I've gotten to the point where I'm not sure what "minor" even means in this context, outside of being a fancy way of saying "I don't like this one by this person as much as I like other ones by this same person."

Rhetorical question, I know, but still.

Jake Hardy

Is there a reason for the not-so-veiled Ebert dis? That seemed pretty gratuitous.

Glenn Kenny

Gratuitous, schmatouitous. He wrote it. I found it. It's germane to my subject. If that counts as a "dis," in your book, then...what you will. I didn't intend the citation as some kind of blanket condemnation, but by the same token it's also not the first thing he's ever written, or the last, that comes off the way it comes off.

Jake Hardy

Well is it germane to your review, or germane to the preamble in which you chastise those that would callously bandy about the "minor" tag? In any case, it seems more than a little churlish to chastise the guy who you've sort of defended from the likes of Armond White over the years. But whatever. I did enjoy your review and look forward to the film all the same.

Glenn Kenny

Yes, I defended Ebert from Armond White because Armond attacked him on a purely ad hominem, nasty-ass double-dealing basis that largely involved making snide remarks about Ebert's illness and then saying "no, that's not what I meant" whenever he was called on it. I've also heard Armond chortle in concordance when another "critic" (who I won't name here) blustered out loud before a screening that he was wondering why Ebert isn't dead yet. I genuinely have a lot of respect for Ebert, but, you know, every now and then I might have a difference of methodology/opinion with him. His pedantic side can be a little, well, pedantic at times. Perhaps I overreacted at reading his concurrence concerning "minor Dickens," but it's because when I came upon it it actually DID make my jaw drop. But I can see in the context (or lack thereof) above, it looks like a swipe from out of nowhere. Or like I was reaching.

Jake Hardy

OK, I think I get it now. I wasn't taking a swipe at you, not by a long shot. In fact, I read this blog regularly and admire your work, so the remark just kind of seemed out of left field. But now I see what you're getting at with it. As Cobain said, all apologies.

Glenn Kenny

No apologies necessary, it probably wasn't the most sensitively calibrated observation on my part. What I really wanted to do was a pie chart or Venn diagram where I'd chart the intersections of "minor Dickens" and "minor Dardennes" and instead of doing my homework I ended up cherry-picking a bit of Ebert weirdness. Clearly I need a research intern.

Peter Lenihan

I loved this one too--although I find the notion that the Dardennes are "just repeating themselves" or that this is "too familiar" as infuriating as the idea that Bike is minor...which it isn't. As if anyone else could have made this movie.

The same thing happened with Lorna's Silence--which received some pretty unenthusiastic notices for reasons I don't understand at all.


I saw THE KID WITH A BIKE at AFI Fest last year. It is so freaking good. Walked away marveling at what the Dardennes do, how they make it seem so off the cuff and effortless. There isn't a wasted moment. As far as I'm concerned, this is a major work from a pair of major filmmakers.


Count me in as another person who thinks "The Kid with a Bike" is major Dardennes. (The following might contain spoilers.)

Another criticism I've seen of the film is that it's implausible and something of a fairy tale. Perhaps this hinges on how you view the Cecile de France character, who I think the Dardennes wisely don't provide a lot of psychological background for. I suppose, for some people, arbitrary cruelty and malevolence is a lot more credible than seemingly unmotivated goodness. I totally bought it, though, and I think de France's performance is kind of a miracle; at times bringing to mind Setsuko Hara in "Tokyo Story" in her ability to emit decency and goodwill without being boring or mawkishly saintly.


"I loved this one too--although I find the notion that the Dardennes are "just repeating themselves" or that this is "too familiar" as infuriating as the idea that Bike is minor...which it isn't. As if anyone else could have made this movie."

I don't understand what the second sentence has to do with the first. People who find Kid With a Bike too reminiscent of previous Dardennes films (I am among them, I'm afraid) don't look at it and think, "Hell, Lasse Hallström could've made this!" Obviously it's very much of a piece with the rest of their oeuvre. That's kind of the problem. But don't mind me, I think the widely dismissed Lorna's Silence is one of their best.

Peter Lenihan

Is Mouchette too much like Au hasard Balthazar? Is Hatari! (or El Dorado, to be even more obvious about it) too much like Rio Bravo? Is The Sun Shines Bright too much like Judge Priest? Oh, and Ozu?

I think I understand where you're coming from, but for a lot of people part of the joy of following a filmmaker is seeing how much he / she does repeat himself / herself, & the widespread critical assumption that reinvention = good is, for me at least, pretty frustrating.


Why does Cecile de France ALWAYS, ALWAYS have the worst hair ever, in every movie? She changes it from role to role, and still it sucks, always some bad perm or bowl cut or frizz-do from 1987... She's hot, but her hair is like epically terrible.


(In Durst Voice) See? I told you.


Haven't seen this, but I loved de France's heartfelt work in HEREAFTER.

Glenn Kenny

md'a, so you don't feel quite so isolated, I'll say that I was VERY big on "Lorna's Silence" myself, so much so that I wrote about it three times:




And at least one of those three times I considered what I consider the bugaboo of "artistic growth," and I'm reasonably sure that in one of those considerations I invoked the relative sameness of the first four Ramones albums, because that's how I repeat myself.

I have to admit that as a viewer, I'm actually reasonably guilty of going into any Dardennes picture with some kind of preconceived notions...and that the films always manage to shake up those notions somehow. With "Lorna," the salient difference was in the strange, insinuating and/or overt touches of the mystic. In "Kid" there was a lot of stuff; the tension in the videogame play scene especially. The variety of what they're able to achieve within their register never ceases to impress me and invariably supercedes whatever concerns I might have about repetitiveness.


For some reason, The Dardennes are the world-class favorites that I can't quite entirely admire. I liked l'Enfant pretty well, but couldn't get behind The Son, which sort of turned me off to their movies a little bit. I need to do some re-viewing, I know, and it's been difficult for me to pinpoint exactly what I object to (especially considering how many people are just over the moon about their movies) but it has something to do with them being slyly deterministic. The films' realism is always nearly flawless, but it often seems to be in service of a story that is unrealistically rigid. I know that this is often explained as a sort of "parable," which I don't object to per se, but in The Son it just felt kind of pat. There are some "give-away" moments that rubbed me the wrong way, almost as though the Dardennes were worried about making certain things clear to their audience (part of it may have been poorly translated subtitles, which get amplified in such a dialogue-light film). Which also implied lack of an inner life to the characters, which again seemed flatly at odds with the meticulous realism of the rest of the movie. All of which isn't to deny the Dardennes the obvious humanity and tenderness of their work; just that I don't find it as successful as a lot of other people do.

But maybe this will be the one that turns me around! It sounds very good indeed.

Mr. Milich

Have they discovered the invention called the tripod yet?

Josh Z

The movie did feel like a "minor" work to me when I saw it at TIFF last year. And this isn't coming from a Dardennes superfan concerned that the brothers are repeating themselves. I mean, I liked the movie, but my reaction coming out of it was, "Oh, that was nice." That was about it. I shrugged and moved onto the next screening.

Maybe I need to see it again. The festival experience of crunching in a lot of movies back-to-back sometimes has the effect of draining enthusiasm for any one particular picture.

warren oates

I'm kind of with Ebert and Zach, except when I'm not. By which I mean, for me, just about every Dardennes film is a minor work. The only one that held me the whole way through and surprised me and seemed to be reaching toward some of the majorness of their more impressive predecessors was THE SON.

Comparisons to Bresson above feel unearned. Yeah, I know they are consciously influenced by the master. But what they've done with it is considerably less than, say, what Haneke has.

Gordon Cameron

I seem to recall Ebert rescinding his agreement with the 'minor Dickens' judgment in another review or a blog post, but I can't remember where.

For my money, the last couple of chapters of 'A Tale of Two Cities' never cease to bowl me over with their almost irresistible emotional power. The encounter between Carton and the French girl at the scaffold is about as close as literature has taken me to (through?) the gates of death. I call that major.

>I've gotten to the point where I'm not sure what "minor" even means in this context, outside of being a fancy way of saying "I don't like this one by this person as much as I like other ones by this same person."

I guess all aesthetic pronouncements could come down to that, but I'm not sure it's so terrible to distinguish, between, say, 'King Lear' and 'The Merry Wives of Windsor'; or Fur Elise versus the Hammerklavier Sonata. It might simply be a compressed way to express the idea that 'in a universe of finite time and attention, yours is better spent on X [major] rather than Y [minor].'

Peter Labuza

Great review Glenn, and I actually really loved "Kid With a Bike," much more than "L'Enfant," which I have issues with in terms of where the narrative takes us/my identification with the protagonist. But my one thing I'm still wrestling with in "Kid" is the last 10 minutes and that last sequence. Without giving too much away, I was somewhat confused on the takeaway from that sequence, as well as a bit annoyed by the slight narrative convenience it takes. But I just saw it last night, so I haven't had enough time to process it. Any thoughts you have would be most appreciated.

Victor Morton

The last sequence is about how the law cannot confer love.

Peter Lenihan

@ warren

If you're referring to my comment, I didn't compare the Dardennes to Bresson any more than I did to Hawks or Ford or Ozu. They're all different filmmakers, but in all their cases there's a compulsion to revisit certain milieus and themes, and a refusal to conform to preconceived ideas of artistic growth. That's something that doesn't strike me as being particularly true of Haneke, but since I think he's pretty much full of shit I'm probably not the best judge in that case.

warren oates

Well, I don't know, Peter. The Bresson comparison, whether you meant it that way or not, is a valid one to make on a number of levels. The Dardennes have acknowledged his influence and a number of critics have often made favorable mention of his work and theirs together. And I believe they share certain concerns about the spiritual nature of cinema and the directness and unadorned quality of their images.

I just don't think they are that great. I keep expecting one of their films to blow me away like the masterworks of Bresson and of the Neorealists that the Dardennes have followed, but I'm usually underwhelmed. The only one that came close was THE SON.

Then again maybe that's because I'm not in the least bit a humanist. I want something more. Not necessarily darker, but more. And so of all the many international filmmakers who've been so heavily influenced by Bresson, Haneke strikes me as the one who's earned it the most by pushing what he's borrowed forward in the most interesting ways. You look at his Sight & Sound list of his favorite films at the top are two Bressons plus PSYCHO and SALO. And in his own work he's stayed true to the best of all of those films.

warren oates

And if you think Haneke's so full of shit it wouldn't be because you've only seen FUNNY GAMES (either one) or THE WHITE RIBBON, would it? Because those are his least successful films. And I'd easily say that the FUNNY GAMES films are complete failures -- though I love him for having the balls to be so disastrously wrong about the conception of a thing and still make it twice.

The Hanekes to watch and really feel the Bresson influence are some of the early TV work and the first three theatrical features -- the so-called emotional glaciation trilogy. My favorites are probably BENNY'S VIDEO, CODE UNKNOWN and THE PIANO TEACHER.


"Boku wa 'toufu-ya' dakara toufu shika tsukuranai."

"I'm a 'tofu shop' so I don't make anything but tofu."

-- Yasujiro Ozu

Peter Lenihan

I pretty much agree with a lot of what you say here--I don't think Bresson should be called a humanist, and I think the Dardennes could be (it's far more applicable than the claims of realism or neorealism, which are overstated IMO).

What I get with Bresson that I never, ever get with Haneke is that, despite a certain distance, these are horrible things happening--knights killing each other, wives killing themselves, girls losing their virginity--there's a palpable sense of pain and loss and you know it really means something to the director. After Glenn posted on The Terrorizers this week I watched it and Mahjong for the first time and that nonnegotiable sense of pain was there too, although it's still most overwhelming in A Brighter Summer Day. & obviously it's really non-critical to say, "Well it's just a feeling and it's in Bresson and Yang but not in Haneke," but that's really what it comes down to for me. In Haneke's films he never seems to move beyond the realm of just fucking with his protagonists, and there isn't anything palpably emotionally or spiritually or morally at stake (and very little intellectually too).

Peter Lenihan

I haven't seen Benny's Video, and it's admittedly been awhile since Code Unknown or The Piano Teacher. I should probably revisit. FWIW, I did rewatch Cache recently and liked it even less than I originally did, and I didn't like it originally.

What's wrong with tofu?

warren oates

Oh, Bresson's definitely not a humanist, but to me the Dardennes definitely are. Though that's not what makes their work to me less interesting than anyone else's. Just a more general comment on what I'd prefer. I'd rather see an interesting failure by a not-at-all-humanist influenced by Bresson like Bruno Dumont than a regular slice of humanist life from the brothers Dardenne.

Yeah, maybe have a look at CODE UNKNOWN again, though the available U.S. video editions are kind of crap-tastic.

And don't watch BENNY'S VIDEO lightly. It will ruin your evening. But only because Haneke makes you feel for the characters and makes you feel what they've lost by doing what they do.

It's too easy a knock on somebody like Haneke who makes intense and unpleasant films to say that he's doing it for his own delectation or without concern for his characters. I just don't see that at all. In a way, the single more important Bresson film to him whether he's ever said this or not is L'ARGENT. The coldness and cruelty and speed of that film...the tenuous and glancing and unexpected connections between people...the responsibility we all have for everyone we're connected to... it's as if Haneke's been remaking it in different ways for much of his career.

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