Review: The Kid with a Bike (2012)

“Don’t be upset if it’s not the way you dream it’ll be.”

Winner of the Grand Jury Prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival and a Golden Globe nominee for Best Foreign Language Film, the deeply moving new film by the Dardenne brothers delves into the emotional life of troubled 11-year-old Cyril (Thomas Doret). When his father (Jérémie Renier) abandons him, Cyril obsessively searches for his bicycle – placing his last bit of hope in this symbol of their relationship. Almost by accident, he becomes the ward of a kind hairdresser (Cécile de France), who seems surprised to find herself so determined to help him. With his wild, unpredictable behaviour and his disastrous search for father figures, Cyril risks losing her – though she refuses to give up without a fight. – ROTTEN TOMATOES

Since The Kid with a Bike won the Grand Prix prize at last years Cannes Film Festival I have been looking forward to its British cinematic release, and was pleasantly surprised when it was playing at my local multiplex; hopefully large cinema chains have finally found out there is a place for the distribution of foreign films. The Dardenne Brothers have crafted another emotional and brilliant film, and given us maybe the greatest performance of 2012.

The plot follows a 12-year-old boy called Cyril, currently living in a youth farm (a modern orphanage) in Belgium. He idolises the father who has for all intensive purposes abandoned him and acts out against those who would care for him, such as a hairdresser Samantha (played by Cecile De France) who offers to take him in at the weekends and the youth farm staff.

The Dardenne Brothers craft their film around its performances; cinematographer Alian Marcoen shoots the action wide, compensating for any movements the actors might take and the film is edited in a minilalist style, choosing long, fluid takes over cutting to close ups. The film is bathed in bright colours, and Cyril’s red tops punch out from the screen; I was immediately reminded of the similarly juxtaposed bright cinematography in Andrea Arnold’s Fish Tank, another film about a child trying to find their place in the world.

The Kid with a Bike all rests upon its star’s performance, and Thomas Doret delivers a heart breaking, emotional and most all, truthful performance. The innocence that through his performance he installs in Cyril is the heart of the film, and always keeps the audience rooting for him. The only other films I can remember having such innocent child performances are Francois Truffaut’s the 400 Blows and Ken loach’s Kes, both brilliant films that I believe The Kid with a Bike equally measures up to. The films two other central performances are also brilliant, especially Cecile De France’s nuanced Samantha.

Whilst The Dardenne Brothers work is often classified as social realist, thematically The Kid with a Bike could more accurately be described as a contemporary fairy tale. Cyril is guided by and the film finds an emotional anchor through the fairy god Mother that is Samantha, and instead of a wicked Step-Mother Cyril has a disinterested and selfish Father.

Critics might also find reason to read The Kid with a Bike as a fairy tale through the assumption that nobody is really as good hearted as Samantha, and no one catches such a lucky break in life as Cyril; but don’t we all really wish people were as good as Samantha? I know I do, and I also hope that The Dardenne Brothers continue to make films as beautiful as this.

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