Thursday, 1 March 2012
The Kid With a Bike
The Kid with a Bike (2011) dir. The Dardenne Brothers
Starring Cécile de France, Jérémie Renier, and Thomas Doret
By Blair Stewart
Last year Belgium's Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne (Rosetta, The Son and The Child) returned to Cannes with their winning cinéma vérité formula. Approaching films with a focus on lower-class European sociology, the Dardennes' storytelling engages you with films of emotional complexity that are told with what initially appears to be docu-drama simplicity.
The Kid with a Bike follows the lousy situation of 11-year-old Cyril (Thomas Doret), dumped by his father (Jérémie Renier, a grown-up follow-up to his role in The Child) into foster care. Cyril is a ball of thwarted energy, furiously pecking away at his perceived imprisonment by jumping fences, badgering his councillors and doing anything to burrow back to his absentee pa. He breaks out of the home and runs smack into hairdresser Samantha (Cécile de France), who in turn establishes an often fraught relationship with Cyril as she becomes his surrogate mother. The baggage and vulnerability of Cyril is a weighty task for Samantha, with the child's greatest danger coming from a mentorship with an adolescent thug cut from the same cloth as the boy. In the thug, the Dardennes effortlessly sidestep trite judgement of Cyril's bad company with a simple moment involving the thug caring for his invalid grandmother. A moment like that sticks with me, as a dimension is added to a stock character who has his own motivation for why he would commit crimes. The story has a circular purpose to it, with Cyril's behaviour dictated by his father's choices in another pleasant surprise where I'd almost taken the Belgian filmmaking duo for granted with their script.
The Kid with a Bike doesn't break new ground for Jean-Pierre and Luc, but of their major releases over the past two decades, this is their most overtly sympathetic film – it hurts to watch Cyril. Cécile de France is lovely in her working-class role, as she communicates the interior scheming of a good woman nursing a damaged kid. Thomas Doret is a wonderful child actor, his buzzing restlessness reminiscent of Antoine Doinel in The 400 Blows. I thought of Truffaut's film often during the long moments of Cyril riding his bike, urgently trying to gain a step in a hopeless situation.
What's kept me from rating The Kid higher is that with each new film, the Dardenne pair tread closer to old grounds and could certainly expand well beyond their safety net. The film's soundtrack is also periodically breached with an overwrought score yearning for catharsis rather loudly.
While The Kid with a Bike doesn't have the heady morality questions of The Son and its payoff, the Dardennes' latest is a fine film that will reward their audience.
The Kid With a Bike is available on DVD this week from EOne Films in Canada