The Kid with a Bike

9 Dec

Two-time Palme d’Or winning duo Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne didn’t make history by taking the top prize for a third time with childhood fable The Kid with a Bike but they came close by winning the festival’s silver medal – the Grand Prix. Initially, the film presents itself as a clever mutation of Vittorio De Sica’s neorealist masterpiece The Bicycle Thieves but instead of father and son hunting down a stolen bicycle together in post-war Rome, the Dardennes follow 11-year-old Cyril (Thomas Doret), who is placed in a care home by his father who wants to start a fresh – without his son. Cyril holds an irrationally idealistic view of his father, running away from the home in order to seek out him out – as well as his beloved bike which, unbeknownst to Cyril, his father has sold.

A walking advertisement for children’s rights, Cyril is brilliantly portrayed by the young Doret. Unloved and unwanted by his father and exploited by a criminal, Cyril is clearly exhibits a degree of psychological damage. He presents himself with the air of a cornered animal – taut and capable of violence but ultimately innocent. It is, however, never in doubt that beneath this betrayed, untrusting exterior lies the mind and soul of a child who is yearning for the love of another living, human being – a commodity that many of us have received since birth but a invaluable gift that he has never received.

That is, until he meets Samantha – the unabashed hero of the film that gives him the love and care that he so desperately needs. Like any motherly figure, she attempts to guide Cyril to look past his simmering maelstom of rage and frustration and walk on the right side of life. Even when she seems doomed to failure, she stubbornly refuses to give up on the boy – one of the most interesting aspects of her character. The Dardennes never reveal the underlying motivations behind her caring for the boy, leaving it open for the viewer to decide whether or not she is really a saintly guardian angel.

A cinematic fable, the Dardenne Brothers’ defence of childhood is every bit as short and sweet as those found in any Aesop collection. At only 87 minutes long, the film has a sprightly pace – mirroring the speed of childhood – but importantly the film doesn’t seem like it could have used a longer running time and no shot seems unnecessary. The Dardennes’ concise editing is impressive in today’s cinematic landscape where most of the great films seem to be over two hours in length. Conciseness seems to permeate through all of the Dardennes work – they typically focus on conflicts that could quite easily be unfolding in your street, no matter where you live. They are among the few working today who can make these restrained, microcosmic dramas every bit as compelling as a Shakespearean epic and as heartfelt as anything you will ever see.

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