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Kid, the third feature by Fien Troch (whose debut, Someone Else’s Happiness, was the official Belgian submission to the 2006 Oscars), is a work of deliberate pacing and profound emotion. Set in Dutch-speaking Belgium, the drama studies the devastating impact of internal and external pressures on a young farm family, with particular focus on the title character, an exceptionally strong-willed and heartbreakingly vulnerable 7-year-old.
The handsome, understated production, which is receiving its North American premiere at AFI Fest, uses elliptical structure to potent effect: pared-down and always involving. A strong critical response on the festival circuit could make it the filmmaker’s first work to secure distribution outside her home turf.
The first image in the film is a painting of a house, and nearly every shot that follows possesses the charged intensity of a photorealist canvas. Troch and her regular cinematographer, Frank van den Eeden, favor a stationary camera throughout the movie. At the outset, they use an atmosphere-setting collection of domestic still lifes to convey the central motifs of absence and dread, which resound with amplified urgency as the story progresses.
But there’s gentle humor, too, in the antics of Kid (Bent Simons), especially in the candy raids he and goofy pal Misty (Sander van Sweevelt) stage in the anesthetic tableau of the Muzak-gurgling supermarket.
A tough nut with a penetrating scowl and uncanny self-possession, Kid acts up at school and at home, and inspires trepidation in some adults. His mother (Gabriela Carrizo) meets his bossy outbursts with equanimity, but at the same time she’s increasingly absorbed by their farm’s crushing debt, a matter she’s forced to face alone since her husband abandoned the family. The farm is dismantled around them — first the pigs are sold, then the equipment — and still she can’t satisfy her increasingly belligerent creditors.
In muted yet wrenching scenes, Kid and his slightly older brother, the easygoing Billy (Maarten Meeusen), each try to comfort their mom as she slips deeper into despair. Billy is the picture of angelic innocence and often enrapt before the TV, whether the program is an agricultural documentary or Married with Children. He’s aware of their money problems, but it’s the hyper-observant Kid who watches their mother’s decline with rising alarm. In a pivotal sequence, after finding her in a kind of fugue state in the woods, he makes a fateful pact with her.
Froch’s sharp insight captures the boys’ changing circumstances and the ways they negotiate new relationships with the aunt (Rit Ghoos) and uncle (René Jacobs) who step in to care for them. For Billy, his uncle’s corny games provoke a complex response of dismay morphing into gratitude, while Kid, who’s unsurprisingly less adaptable or optimistic, stands his ground — for starters, in a comic tussle in a toy-store aisle. As he struggles with his pain and confusion, Kid’s reactions grow more shocking, especially within a culture where emotions are held in check. Against those constraints, the deepening bond between aunt and nephews plays out powerfully.
The symmetry of many of Van den Eeden’scompositions works especially well to emphasize the orderliness of the boys’ new, suburban home, compared with the untamed countryside and their simple farmhouse. The unmoving camera is a revelatory way into the story, although a couple of instances in which characters remain posed in moments of high emotion are less effective than the more naturalistic exchanges.
Without making an issue of it, the film also touches on elements of hypocrisy and condescension in the church-centric Flemish community. Earnestly sung requiems and Senjan Jansen’s score tap into the knowledge of suffering and the longing for comfort that are the core of this perfectly cast, elegantly lensed movie.
Venue: AFI Fest (Breakthrough)
Production company: Prime Time, with the participation of N279 Entertainment, Versus Production and Augenschein Filmproduktion
Cast: Bent Simons, Maarten Meeusen, Rit Ghoos, Gabriela Carrizo, Sander van Sweevelt, René Jacobs
Writer-director: Fien Troch
Producer: Antonino Lombardo
Director of photography: Frank van den Eeden
Production designer: Walter Brugmans
Music: Senjan Jansen
Co-producers: Jacques-Henri Bronckart, Olivier Bronckart, Els Vandevorst
Costume designer: Walter Brugmans
Editor: Nico Leunen
Sales agent: Media Luna New Films, Cologne
No MPAA rating, 92 minutes
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