Jun. 06, 2012 - Issue #868: Hot Summer Guide
The Kid With a Bike
Directed by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne
Metro Cinema at the Garneau
Everywhere, we see Cyril. And Cyril searches everywhere for a man who doesn't want him, who can't bring himself to care anymore. If Cyril were an adult, we'd think he's psychologically damaged. But he's a 12-year-old boy, and we watch him, running away and eluding his foster-home carers and pedalling off, determined to find his father, refusing to believe his dad's not interested in seeing him anymore. And while Cyril's bike recalls the neo-realist masterpiece The Bicycle Thieves, and Cyril's usual red shirt may even suggest that classic child's city-odyssey The Red Balloon, this film's closest to the Dardennes' second work and their masterpiece, Rosetta. There we watched, and watched, and watched a young Belgian woman determined to get work, to escape the trailer park and her alcoholic mother.
The Dardennes' six great social-realist films (and The Kid with a Bike, winner of Cannes' Grand Prix last year, is one of their best) have been turning the physical expressions of slapstick inside-out, into the personal motions of daily struggle. Since 1996, their films have been about working-class and underclass people's gestures and movements, their dreams and mistakes translated into physical labour and strain.
As Cyril, Thomas Doret's a force of childish will, savagely stubborn in his pursuit of his dad (Dardenne regular Jérémie Renier) until he runs headlong into a hairdresser (Cécile de France). Their chance collision leads to her gently taking him in, looking after him on weekends. De France is the first star the Dardennes have worked with, and she suffuses Samantha with a quiet, patient concern, a goodness so basic it makes Cyril's plight all the more urgent. When he realizes his father's abandoned him, his reaction's heartbreaking—he could plunge into a cycle of psychological damage.
Cyril's taken in by a sly, dangerous father-figure before the story careens relentlessly towards what looks to be a heartbreaking ending. But the Dardennes smoothly shift one gear up in the film's coda, offering a sting of humility before a flash of quiet grace. And then we're left watching after one boy on his bike, stubbornly himself, moving and moving and moving through his little world, a force to be reckoned with and respected.
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