Finding someone who will love you all the way down to hell
This was the tagline of a Swedish movie, Love Me! This film from 1986 is mostly remembered because it was one of the biggest failures in Swedish film history after being delayed for several years and exceeding the budget with 50 percent. The director wasn’t let anywhere near a film production for 17 years since the industry had lost confidence in him.
Anyway – as far as I recall the film was OK, but that’s about all I remember. It opened the same night as the Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme was shot in an open street, so I guess our attention was somewhere else at that time.
One thing stuck with me though after all those years, and I remember it as clearly as if I had watched it yesterday: the tagline that was quoted in trailers and ads for the film.
“If I’ll ever find someone who will love me all the way down to hell, I’ll stay there”.
The words come from a troublesome teenage girl who has lived her entire life in foster homes. She’s provocative and demanding and frankly pretty annoying and I wouldn’t blame the foster parent who gave up on her. She asks for unconditional love, no less. And how do you know that the love is unconditional? You pull it to its furthest edge, making yourself impossible to love. In hell can you see what kind of love it is.
I hadn’t thought of this movie for a good many years, but the tagline came back to my mind as I watched The Kid with a Bike by the Belgian filmmakers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne.
11 year old Cyril is only at his first foster home, but he certainly doesn’t make it easy to love him. If it wasn’t for Samantha, who steps into his life, takes him under her wings on the weekends and him a break from the orphanage where his father has put him, I would expect him to end up in a bad place.
“It’s him or me”, exclaims Samantha’s frustrated boyfriend, who isn’t an angel but a normal person.
“Him”, says Samantha without a moment of hesitation, thus making me tear up. It’s a standpoint she’ll get the chance to rethink this quite a few times as Cyril continues to make worse and worse choices.
I’ve often heard it said about movies that in most cases you could easily cut it down 20 minutes and it would only get better. But The Kid with a Bike has already gone through that process and it’s only 1,5 hours long. This means that we stick to the essentials. No time is wasted on irrelevant side plots or lengthy explanations about where those people are coming from. I get as much as that Cyril is in a crappy spot but I don’t get to know why Cyril’s father can’t take care of him. Is he just an egotistical asshole or is there something more to it? Has he done something criminal? And what happened to his mother? Not a clue. What’s life like at the orphanage? We only get a glimpse if even that. And who is this Samantha? An angel trying out the life as a mortal? Is she real? It’s like a fairytale; there are very few details. Not that I miss them. This movie is like a nice port – it’s concentrated so you only need a little of it.
In spite of the format The Kid with a Bike deals with big issues: love, loss, betrayal, revenge and forgiveness. I’ve seen some critics claiming it’s biblical. Perhaps they can’t imagine any unconditional love existing without divine inspiration.
If you ask me it’s just deeply human. There are a lot of shitty parents out there, but that doesn’t mean that their kids need to grow up without ever experiencing unconditional love. The Kid with a Bike is a good reminder of that. We may need to follow the kids and love them down to hell. But we don’t need to let them stay there.
The Kid with a Bike (Le gamin au vélo, Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne, BE 2011) My rating: 4/5