The Kid with a Bike (2011)

by - March 16th, 2012 - Movie Reviews


Dramatic Bike an Exhilarating Ride

Things are not going well for Cyril Catoul (Thomas Doret). He’s been abandoned to a group home for orphan children by his deadbeat father Guy (Jérémie Renier), the man moving without saying goodbye, selling the boy’s prized bicycle to help finance the move. Throwing fit after fit, he breaks into the housing complex his dad used to live in to see for himself that he has really departed, clinging to beautiful stranger Samantha (Cécile De France) before his counselors can pry him lose as if his life depended on never losing grasp of her.


In an act of kindness she can’t explain, Samantha buys Cyril’s bike, delivering it to him at the home. More, when he asks if he can stay with her on the weekends, that the agency is always looking for adults to foster some of the kids to ease their financial burden, she for some reason agrees. Now the two are starting to get to know one another on a deeper level than they originally thought they would, the young boy, broken and battered by the adults who have let him down, and the twenty or thirty-something hairdresser, looking to help for reasons she doesn’t quite understand, are forming a bond so strong it’s almost familial.

Like all Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne’s (L’enfant, Rosetta) previous directorial efforts, The Kid with a Bike (Le gamin au vélo) isn’t particularly easy to describe or summarize, even if the plot initially sounds relatively simplistic. Once again they are exploring the inner-workings of individuals who have been beaten down by life’s miseries, searching for a way to move on and heal. In this case, however, they’ve dropped viewers right into the middle of the action, letting us figure out on our own just how much trauma Cyril has endured and what kind of tragedies would allow Samantha to open her home to a boy in such a frazzled psychological state.

It was a bit of a slog at first. I had an awfully difficult time allowing myself to become emotionally invested in what was taking place. Cyril is such a messed-up kid, so angry, so filled with rage, relating to him is almost impossible. Additionally, it’s equally difficult to comprehend why someone as caring, as measured and as peaceful as Samantha would want to bring this sort of chaos into her home. What does she see in the boy? How does she know this is something she has to do? Why is it important to her? I didn’t know when she agreed to do so and I still didn’t know now after watching the film all the way until the end.

Funny thing is, I’m not entirely sure I needed to know. As the movie progressed the Dardenne brothers unwavering and unflinching eye kept me continually captivated. I needed to know what decisions Cyril was going to make. Was he going to keep trying to get to a father who didn’t want to be part of his son’s life? Would he let himself be brainwashed by the neighborhood’s charming local drug dealer and work with him on an upcoming heist? These questions and more hovered in the air throughout, the whole thing playing out like a hardcore Cassavetes-like drama-slash-fairy tale that hit closer to home than the aggressively uncomfortable opening scenes led me to believe.


Am I completely satisfied? No. I do have lingering questions that I’m frustrated the Dardenne’s didn’t attempt to answer. But the way they illicit performances from their actors is astonishing (I’m not sure De France, whom most know from Hereafter and High Tension, has ever been better), their work with newcomer Doret particularly stunning. What they ask of the boy, what they urge him to do, it is as complicated and as internally multidimensional as any performance I’m likely to see this year. He’s remarkable, and the depths he ends up descending to are so devastating part of me is still reeling from the experience of sitting in the theatre and witnessing them come to life.

You get the feeling that Luc and Jean-Pierre are continuing to flex their directorial muscles and broaden their horizons. The brothers use snippets of music in the picture for what I believe is the first time, and they also allow a bit of lightness and hope to enter into the proceedings in a way that is organic and necessary but also doesn’t dilute the darker edges of their scenario. The Kid with a Bike won’t be for everyone, and it certainly left me with lingering questions I’m mildly irritated weren’t even partially answered. But overall this drama is an emotionally exhilarating ride I’m still mulling over, and even more importantly it’s a film I’m certain to not soon forget.

Film Rating: 3 (out of 4)

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