Directed by: Jean-Pierre Dardenne & Luc Dardenne.
Written by: Jean-Pierre Dardenne & Luc Dardenne.
Starring: Thomas Doret (Cyril Catoul), Cécile De France (Samantha), Jérémie Renier (Guy Catoul), Fabrizio Rongione (Le libraire), Egon Di Mateo (Wes), Olivier Gourmet (Le patron du bar), Batiste Sornin (Educateur 1), Samuel De Rijk (Educateur 2), Carl Jadot (L'instituteur), Laurent Caron (Gilles).
Over the last 15 years, The Dardenne Brothers have established themselves among the premier filmmakers working in the world today. They rose to prominence with La Promesse in 1996 (a film I still need to see), and ever since then have made one great film after another – Rosetta (1999), about a young woman who just wants a job, The Son (2002), perhaps my favorite of their films, featuring a brilliant performance by Olivier Gourmet as the father of a murdered boy, L’Enfant (2005), about two young people unprepared for parenthood and Lorna’s Silence (2008), about an immigrant woman trying to gain citizenship. It was widely seen as the brother’s weakest film, and although perhaps it is, that does not take away from what really is a wonderful piece of filmmaking, which combines the brother’s typical neo-realism, with a little bit of film noir.
Their latest, The Kid with a Bike, is one of their best. It stars young Thomas Doret as Cyril, a 12 year old who has been shipped off to a juvie home by his father (Jeremie Renier), supposedly just for a month, but his father has since left their apartment, turned off his phone, and had no contact with Cyril. What is heartbreakingly obvious to the audience – that he has abandoned his son – is what Cyril refuses to accept. He goes to his father’s old apartment looking for him, even though he’s been told his father moved out and left no forwarding address. Still, he demands to be let into the apartment to try and find his father – and his bike. Soon, counselors from the school show up once again to take him back. Witnessing all of this is Samantha (Cecile De France), a local hairdresser, who takes it upon herself to track down the kid’s bike – which his father has sold – and buy it back. When she brings it to the school, Cyril asks if he can live with her on weekends – and she agrees. He still wants to see his father though, and although Samantha tracks him down, the meeting doesn’t go like Cyril hopes it will. Starving for a father figure, Cyril finds one in Wes (Egon Di Mateo), a local drug dealer and petty criminal, who seemingly takes a shine to Cyril. Once again, what is obvious to us in the audience is lost on Cyril. Wes will try and take advantage of the kid in one way or another.
The Dardenne brothers are neo-realists at heart, and their films recall the best of the work of Roberto Rossellini and Vittorio De Sica, who also made films about economically depressed people trying to survive in bad conditions. Rosetta is perhaps the bleakest of the Dardenne brother’s films, as it offers little hope. On the flip side, The Kid with the Bike, although it is heartbreakingly honest, is their most cheerful. Cyril is a resilient kid, even if he still needs to learn a lot, and the movie at least offers him some hope. The film is really about Cyril’s need for love. Where his mother has gone is never established. His father has abandoned him, and doesn’t want him around – he’s trying to start over, and have Cyril around would be a distraction. The casting of Dardenne regular Renier in the role of the father made me think that this could be a sort of quasi sequel to the child. Surely, Renier’s character her is about as mature and responsible as he was in that film. Samantha, a woman with no kids of her own, at first seems tentative and unsure of herself. As the movie progresses, she discovers her maternal side. She truly does begin to love Cyril – and proves it by sticking beside him when no one else will.
The Dardenne brother’s films are among the most intimately observed being made right now. Often, they simply follow their characters on their journeys – as if by looking long enough, maybe we’ll begin to understand them. Perhaps their right. What I do know is The Kid with a Bike is among the best of the Dardenne Brothers films – which is becoming one of the most impressive bodies of work of anyone in the world.