|Cécile De France and Thomas Doret|
The Kid with a Bike (2011) ****
dir. Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardennes
Starring: Thomas Doret, Cécile De France, Jérémie Renier, Egon Di Mateo
Review By Greg Klymkiw
Nobody makes movies like Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardennes. One picture after another - stripped bare of overt sentimentality - and yet always packing the sort of emotional wallops seldom attained in contemporary cinema. Their camera is both an observer and participant in the dramatic action - sometimes separately and often in complete harmony. The tales are simple - in a sense, almost conventional - yet you always feel you're watching a new take on the human condition. And the performances - always raw and real - which is why the heartache their work engenders hits you where it hurts the most.
The Kid With A Bike is ultimately no exception, though it has the distinction of feeling far more hopeful than one would expect given its harrowing depiction of a childhood sullied by paternal rejection. 12-year-old Cyril (Thomas Doret) has been abandoned by his father in a state orphanage. The child refuses to believe he'll never see his Dad again. More importantly, Dad promised to buy him a bike and he's insistent the promise was real and that everything is in its proper place, including his Dad. The orphanage officials assure him that his father no longer lives at his last known address and that they cannot find him.
Cyril still exists in a state of innocence pure enough to discount what he's told. He must find out for himself what the truth is behind his father's absence and the whereabouts of his bike. Escaping the clutches of his charges, Cyril heads out to his Dad's last known address and discovers a truth too hard for him to believe. This child is now potentially on the verge of accepting that he is truly alone and that the love and nurturing he expects from his father will simply never come to any realistic fruition.
The Dardennes Brothers plunge us into a number of twists and turns in his life where hope gives way to disappointment in light of what he discovers. In spite of the hard knocks he experiences, a very unlikely salvation is just around the corner - salvation that he literally runs into. Luckily, his potential salvation, a beautiful, but emotionally distant hairdresser Samantha (Cécile de France) is also alone. Not literally, mind you - she has a significant other, but her eventual devotion to Cyril far exceeds what she can give to another and Cyril is just what she needs to love right now.
Alas, for a confused, emotionally traumatized little boy, the temptations of the outside world include the need to be accepted by peers - many of whom are petty criminals and looking for boys like him to use, exploit, then abandon. If there is a fear the Dardennes Brothers focus on it's the emotional holes in the disenfranchised that force them to fill in the gaps with the sort of short term gain that leads to so many children turning into statistics that nobody would wish upon anyone in the formative years of their life.
And there is the bike of the film's title - representing flight and freedom to be sure, but also mobility, possession and a mode of transport that can choose one of two paths; happiness or despair.
The Dardennes Brothers are Masters of Despair, but as such, they're also the Masters of Hope. The Kid With A Bike provides many ways out for young Cyril, but the endless, frustrating conflict is which fork in the road he'll take. Most importantly, it's Cyril's journey in the process of choosing that keeps us glued to the screen.
Childhood is where it all begins. Damage done in this period of innocence becomes all too great a hurdle and the genuine power of this film is seeing Cyril's attempts to surmount the heights inflicted by "damage", but also finding ways to accept the unconditional love of a stranger - a love that might well go a long way to creating a child who will eventually become a man and one who is able to shed the layers of dead flesh that have accumulated in a short life of suffering. Alas, in childhood, things move very slowly, so no matter how short the proceedings are, a month of suffering can feel like years and in turn add so many more years of bad decisions and ultimately, regret.
Again, another great work from these treasures to the art of cinema and one that is not to be missed.
"The Kid With a Bike" is available on a Director Approved Criterion Collection Special Edition Blu-Ray (or if you must, DVD) with an exquisite 2K digital transfer, supervised by director of photography Alain Marcoen, a conversation between film critic Kent Jones and directors Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, interviews with actors Cécile de France and Thomas Doret, "Return to Seraing", a half-hour documentary where the Dardennes revisit five locations from the film, the trailer and a lovely booklet featuring an essay by critic Geoff Andrew.