You can lose your hearing, not to mention your sanity, by just sitting through the previews in one of the big movie theaters in the District these days. The noise of trains, planes, and automobiles crashing into each other is designed to cause you to shed those modest ear buds and get back to pure, spine-shattering SOUND.
And then there are the characters: There may be a human or two among them, but most are inhuman monsters who have huge, gaping mouths with dripping, rotten teeth–the better to devour you with. And their skin is always some unflattering shade of green that identifies them as members of the lizard species — expanding their necks, eyes, tongues, etc., in terrifyingly ingenious ways. Don’t worry. You’re so used to them that you won’t have nightmares.
But in small theaters like the one at E Street or the one at the West End, you can still see some quiet movies–movies like The Kid with a Bike or Monsieur Lazhar. They don’t scare you silly. They leave you feeling glad that you are a human being in a world where imperfect people try to be kind to one another.
The Kid with a Bike, (a Belgian movie in French) is now in its second showing at the West End, and its quiet tonality matches the easy familiarity of the small screening rooms of that theater. Its sound is limited to the small puffings and clanks of Cyril’s bike or his quiet exchanges with Samantha, the woman who tries to help him. There is some conflict among members of a teen-age gang, but otherwise only the punctuation of small, tender scenes with Alfred Brendel playing the sublime adagio from Beethoven’s fifth piano concerto.
The story is a simple one about a boy determined to connect with a father who is equally determined to cut him off. (The mother is nowhere in sight). By chance the kid links up with a young woman, whom he has clung to when he is chased by the authorities into a doctor’s office waiting room. The woman, played without pretense by Cècile De France, takes him in without question, though not without testing.
And that’s it for plot. Nevertheless though the film’s simple story of a stranger taking care of a boy is deeply moving.
The same is true for Monsieur Lazhar (French Canadian, in French). In its simple narrative, a courtly immigrant from Tunisia takes over a class of students in a Montréal primary school after its teacher has committed suicide in their own classroom. Teaching them in traditional ways, he also works patiently with the students, and with the other teachers in the school.
They have buried the anxiety about the suicide so deep that its guilt threatens to overcome them and especially the one child who discovered the body. But finally Monsieur Lazhar’s own situation as a refugee in French Canada forces him to leave, though his students now seem able to struggle back to life.
That’s it. But once again the simple tale carries an emotional weight that might not survive the noise and frenetic action in any one of the current cinema blockbusters.
Give yourself permission to see one of these quiet movies this holiday weekend. Neither The Kid with a Bike nor Monsieur Lazhar will scare you, but each will make you feel both sad and hopeful. They assure you that it is good to be a human being, that others of your kind are not lying in wait to gobble you up. These are the right feelings to have now, at the end of the spring and the beginning of a long, hot summer.
But go! The rest of this summer promises even more vampires and monsters from outer space and the sounds of ignorant armies, clashing by night.