The Kid With A Bike

The Kid With A Bike

*****

Reviewed by: Anne-Katrin Titze

The Kid With A Bike has the classic Dardenne Brothers plot. Like those other famous brothers, the Grimms, the Belgian filmmakers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne put their hearts and souls into the telling of tales about children in bad situations. The horrors of childhood are taken very seriously and there is nothing cliché or sentimental in their special neorealist approach to illuminate the human condition.

Their latest, and fifth film at the New York Film Festival and winner of the Grand Prix at Cannes this year, is about 11-year-old Cyril (played with fantastic agility, vulnerability and strength by 13-year-old Thomas Doret), whose father abandons him. The mother is never mentioned, she only exists as absence, like in many a fairy tale, where one bad parent is more than enough to deal with.


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Cyril wants to get in touch with his father, desperately dialing his old phone number over and over again, as if pure willpower and stamina could change the NOT IN SERVICE message to his father's voice. Cyril also wants his bike back - he cannot believe that his father could have sold it. The various people at the orphanage where he is staying, have a hard time keeping up with this whirlwind of a boy, who runs, breathes, bangs on doors, checks his old apartment building, runs some more, always dressed in red, because he will not give up the fantasy that his father still loves him, has not abandoned him, and that everything is a big misunderstanding, just like Hansel uses pebbles to get back to his father's house, only to be forced out again.

In this tale, Cyril does not encounter a witch, but a hairdresser he holds on to, played with wonderful grace and toughness by Cécile de France. Samantha is like "the good fairy," Jean-Pierre Dardenne told me in response to my comment that their stories set in a tough Belgian working class milieu capture the core of what makes fairy tales relevant. "This film is the closest to a fairy tale," he agrees, "because it is the simplest. It is about a child who is losing a very big, terrible illusion."

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Characters in a Dardenne film don't analyse situations or talk about why things occur. They act and in their movements, hits, smiles, they reveal the whole world. The little boy defends his father who never wants to see him again and he tries to latch on to a dangerous drug-dealing wolf in the woods who calls Cyril "pit bull". The boy doesn't know how to accept the affection from Samantha, a woman who is not family and still deeply cares for him.

Watch for a Dardenne brothers' favorite, Olivier Gourmet, who makes an appearance playing the cafe owner who serves the beers. Another Dardenne regular, Jérémie Renier, plays Cyril's father, in many respects an aged shadow of his role in The Child (a film that blew me away at the NYFF in 2005) which starts with him selling his baby, just like Rapunzel.

At the press conference Luc, the younger Dardenne, mentioned the locations in the film are in the form of a triangle: town, forest, gas station, everything happens between these three points.

Cécile de France's Samantha "brings a light to the story," when she reclaims the child's soul as they drive and bicycle to and fro.

In a world where everyone seems so lost, The Kid With A Bike will help you find your humanity again.

Reviewed on: 10 Oct 2011
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The Kid With A Bike packshot
A young boy searches for his father and his bike.
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Director: Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne

Writer: Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne

Starring: Thomas Doret, Ccile de France, Jrmie Renier, Fabrizio Rongione

Year: 2011

Runtime: 87 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: Belgium, France, Italy


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If you like this, try:

The Child
The Italian