The Kid with a Bike Movie Review - -

The Kid with a Bike

    Reviewed by Andreas Wong on April 2nd, 2012
presents a film directed by Jean Pierre and Luc Dardenne
    Screenplay by Jean Pierre and Luc Dardenne
Thomas Doret, Cecile de France
    Running Time:
87 mins
    Rating: M
    Released:  March 15th, 2012




Cyril (Thomas Doret) is a wilful child who is left terrified in a children’s home after realising that his father has dropped out of contact. He uses every trick he can in order to navigate his way back to his father’s unit. In one attempt, he gets as far as the door but has to flee to a nearby medical centre in order to lose his trailing caretakers. Inside, he tenaciously clings on to a female hairdresser seated in the waiting room, Samantha (Cecile de France), and refuses to release her. He tells his caretakers and the building’s janitor that his bike is inside his father’s unit and so they allow him inside. It is empty. Samantha later visits him at the home to gift him his bicycle, having paid off a kid in the neighbourhood for it. Cyril suspects that the bike was stolen, trusting that his father would never have sold it. Samantha and Cyril form an unanticipated bond and together track his father’s whereabouts. Their search leads them to a small café where he recently gained employment. Guy (Jeremie Renier), his father, confesses to Cyril that he did sell the bike as he was short on cash and that he never wants to see him again. These traumatic revelations send Cyril into a tailspin that causes him to violently lash out against the only person who loves him, consort with a local gang and commit a shocking crime: each to their own unforeseeable consequences.

“Le Gamin au Velo” (“The Kid with a Bike”), the latest effort from the Dardennes brothers, arrives on our shores having already received the prestigious Grand Prix prize at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival. Jean-Pierre and Luc are directors of the highest order, having previously been awarded the Palme D’Or twice for “Rosetta” (1999) and “The Child” (2005). Unfortunately, in this particular tale, the emotional complexity and narrative verve that have so often set their movies apart from those of their contemporaries are found desperately wanting. The movie marks out a subtle modification of the Dardennes’ established aesthetic as it retains their hard-luck protagonists, unhurried pacing and familial tropes whilst experimenting with a popular actress and a few timely sonic interventions. These tweaks are understandable and even praiseworthy but they ultimately deprive the film of the sort of realism that previously made their films so impactful.

Luc stated in an interview that the idea of a narrative in which “a woman who helps a boy emerge from the violence that holds him prisoner” had been gestating over an extensive period within both his and his brother’s minds. He further discussed their unexpected use of music remarking, “it is very rare in our films and we hesitated for a long time. In a fairytale there has to be a development, with emotions and new beginnings. It seemed to us that music, at certain points, could act like a calming caress for Cyril”. His implicit admission about the film’s fairytale influence is surprising. In hindsight, the movie’s title (the bike symbolising youthful restlessness and reckless danger), the presence of an angelic figure and the boy’s childhood journey do hint at its inspirations but this influence is not communicated clearly enough to be effective. The undoubted star in this production is Thomas Doret. His acting, though not as prodigious as Yuya Yagira’s in Hirokazu Kore-Eda’s “Nobody Knows” or David Bradley’s in Ken Loach’s “Kes”, does convey masked vulnerability, cynical guile and the male need for paternal affection with aplomb. The aspect that will polarise opinion the most is the spellbinding climax in which Cyril’s life is placed in a state of mortal danger. It is a moment of stilled chaos wherein the possibility of hope in its realistically cold world hangs on by a thread. Some will argue that it represents a moment of inspired magic. I felt it to be irresolute and forced.

A helpful way to perceive the film is to screen it through the unconvincing claim of one particular critic who praised it as the best film on childhood since “Kes” and “Bicycle Thieves”. “Kes” images a tender, elegiac tale about a boy’s initiation into the insensitive world around him. “Bicycle Thieves” subjects a family’s tragic story to the harsh glare of the Italian neo-realist lens. Both these films are decided masterpieces. “The Kid with a Bike”, however, is only a decent film that establishes an emotional register that is as empty as Guy’s former unit. This detachment paralyses its potential. Any praise that the film might have derived from its attempt at unsentimental, true-to-life realism is undercut by its combination of extradiegetic sound, unconvincing events and absurd resolution. It refuses to amplify the strong empathetic impulses that a fairytale would ordinarily register and its fairytale trappings curtail any serious aspirations to realism that it might have had. The movie subtly contradicts itself. This does not turn the film into an irredeemable disaster but it does relegate it to that of a lesser Dardennes’ feature.


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