Review: The Dardenne Bros’ ‘The Kid With The Bike’ packs a quiet punch

05.15.11 8 years ago

Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne are among the most awarded filmmakers to ever play Cannes.  They’ve won the Palm D’Or twice, and their films are almost always received here as the word of God. I’m a fan of their work, and in particular quite like “The Son” and “The Child.”  They make movies that sound like they could be sentimental goo when you read a description, but when you see how they handle the material, there is always a smart, simple reserve that makes the films feel like more than just the synopsis.  It’s little wonder they are so beloved here, since their movies basically feel like the perfect representation of what Cannes looks for in filmmakers.  Elegant, spare, emotional, and human, all of which are words I’d use to describe their latest, “The Kid With The Bike.”

Cecile de France was last seen in the US in Clint Eastwood’s “Hereafter,” and she was sorely misused in that film.  Here, though, she’s perfectly cast as Samantha, a woman who meets a young boy named Cyril (Thomas Doret) during a turbulent point in his life.  It’s one of those emotional scenarios that plays out with a certain undeniable nightmare logic and power for the first 45 minutes or so.  Cyril has been sent to spend his weeks at a boarding school by his father, and as a weekend approaches, Cyril starts trying to call home and contact dad, only to learn that his father has moved without telling him.  He’s convinced that can’t be the case because his dad would never leave without at least bringing him his bike, and for a while, Cyril acts out, dangerously out of control and angry.

When he finally goes to the building where he used to live and sees the empty apartment for himself, it’s almost too much to take, and while his school counsellors try to drag him back to school, Cyril bursts into a doctor’s office, where he tackles a woman, holding onto her for dear life, determined not to go.  Later, she shows up at his school with his bike, which she found in the care of someone else, buying it back so she could return it to Cyril.  This kicks off a complicated relationship between the two as she tries to decide if she wants to be Cyril’s foster care provider, even as he has to come to terms with the notion that his father betrayed him and never wants to see him again.

So much of the film depends on Doret, who is excellent as Cyril.  He never oversells the emotion of what’s happening, and his shock and anger feels authentic.  Jeremie Renier, playing the father who abandons Cyril, conveys a very real pain as a man who simply can’t cope with the hand life dealt him, but it doesn’t make him any less detestable as a character.  In many ways, this is the flip side of “We Need To Talk About Kevin,” where no matter how a parent tries to engage, this child they’re raising seems determined to cause harm and pain.  Here, this poor kid is dealt as crap a hand as humanly possible, but somehow keeps struggling back towards normal.  It is important to remember just how resilient children can be, and Cyril is inspirational without being emblematic.  His struggle is his own, but in it, I can see the struggle of any child towards morality and happiness.

The film has a very simple visual style, but the Dardennes are almost deceptively good shooters.  There’s nothing flashy about the film, but they’re always in the right place to underline each key emotional beat, and the cumulative effect of the film is quietly devastating, with just enough light.  This is another gentle triumph for the brothers, and a film I won’t easily shake any time soon.

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