Hard Knock Life: Troch Returns With Another Exquisite Examination on Anguish
Actress turned director Fien Troch returns with her third feature film, Kid, another beautifully wrought portrait of a family caught in the cross-hairs of a cruel existence, this time related almost entirely from the viewpoint of children. With this latest, perhaps a cap on a trilogy of films all dealing with children experiencing tragic circumstances, Troch definitely solidifies herself as one of the best up and coming Belgian directors, and you can certainly add her name to a very small list of up and coming female auteurs.
Two young brothers, Billy (Maarten Meeusen) and Kid (Bent Simons) share a washed out, somnolent existence with their mother (Gabriela Carrizo). It seems their father disappeared some time ago, leaving their mom in extreme financial difficulty, and more than just with bill collectors. She takes her boys to her sister’s farm, spending her days avoiding debt collectors, phone calls, and even being accosted at their grocery store by a group of ominous men that follow her in their Range Rover.
The boys lead a quietly muted existence, and most of the narrative is seen through the eyes of the younger Kid, who seems more attached to his mother. He often wanders off into the fields (when he’s not finagling ways of getting cash in order to buy candy at the grocery store with a fellow cohort), where it seems he feels more comfort than with his friendly but strange uncle, and his harsh aunt, who interrupts cartoon watching to bitchily ask if he’s familiar with the Book of Job. However, this serves to give us a better perspective on the type of problems their quiet and extremely melancholy mother seems to be having. And when something very drastic happens and the boys are forced to be alone with aunt and uncle, someone else unexpected pops back into their lives.
There’s a deep seated melancholia about the proceedings of Kid, which does indeed show us the existence of a crumbling family, seemingly forced to submit to one trial or tribulation on top of another, not unlike Job. Smiles and laughter aren’t a normal part of existence for Billy and brother Kid. At one point, we watch Mom and the boys as they watch television, and we can hear the unmistakable voice of Al Bundy, and it seems as if this is what they tune into for a father figure fix. Even ‘Married With Children’ serves as a more functional and stable familial unit.
Throughout, a meditative soundtrack drones, the very humming of nature threatening to boil over and overrun our subjects. Quietness is a weapon, a way to deny agency. At one point, their aunt says, “Be quiet about things you know nothing about.” Several physical altercations happen, always a quiet grappling, with screams unable to escape mouths, whether it be between adults and children, or kid vs. kid. Troch’s narrative (her previous features, Someone Else’s Happiness, 2005, and Unspoken, 2008, deal with the loss of children) concerns loss and return of guardianship here, and her quietly confused young brothers recall the sisters from So Yong Kim’s 2008 Treeless Mountain. But by the last tragic reel, you might find this to be more in line with 2003’s The Return, Andrei Zvyagintsev’s terrific tale, as equally dark and ominous about children and distant parental figures.
Let it be said that on its own, Kid is certainly the work of an assured directorial voice, unafraid to show the strange cruelties of both oppressor and oppressed, such as a quiet scene where a young boy demeans a grocery store clerk, or a depressing circle of Bible study administered by the well meaning and imperious aunt. And there’s also a deeper meaning to Troch’s narrative, two boys, each named after one famous man, Billy the Kid. One gets an actual name, the other gets named after a term for a preadolescent phase of life, as if he’s never meant to get beyond the trappings of childhood. His very name dictates that he will never mature, will always be Kid, and not Adult. Fien Troch has brought us a sad, quiet, and menacing film, with stark, unfriendly walls housing people that are trapped and stunted in them, all anguished in their existence. With a little luck, perhaps with this title her body of work will be more easily accessible.
Reviewed on November 02 at the 2012 AFI Film Festival –BREAKTHROUGH Programme.