“The Kid with a Bike”, a new movie from the Dardenne brothers, is the story about a young confused boy struggling with his changed environment surrounding him. Like their other films, we are thrown into the on-going situation of the characters while getting to know and understand them along with the reality surrounding them, but the movie shows some interesting change which began to emerge in their previous work “Lorna’s Silence”(2008). Though the movie retains gritty realism and abrasive side, the movie is warmer and sunnier than the Dardenne brothers’ other dry, objective, but powerful works. It may be relatively less powerful as a result, but it is one of the most heartfelt films I saw in last year, and the movie does a good job in making me care about a boy whom I initially found not so likable.
Taking care of a kid like Cyril(Thomas Doret) requires a certain amount of patience. To be frank with you, while watching the film, I sometimes felt more sympathy to the adults who try to help him rather than this stubborn kid. I understood that he just wants to meet his dad, but I also observed that his reckless behaviors propelled by his desperate need cause lots of headaches to others.
But I do not hate him, because I know that, like any kids in his situation, Cyril resists the change in his life while desperately clinging to the decreasing hope inside him. He hates some nursery home for parentless kids where he has to live for now, and he does not want to believe that his dad has walked away from his life. He tries to contact with him using the phone number left to him. He even runs away from the nursery home and tries to get any information about where his father has gone. He goes to the bar of the store in his neighborhood. He also goes to their former apartment. However, no matter how much he tries, the truth he does not want to look at is getting more apparent with increasing frustration.
He is lucky to come across a kind hairdresser named Samantha(Cécile De France, who was one of three main characters in Clint Eastwood’s “Hereafter”(2010)). Though their first encounter is not pleasant(she is coincidentally involved in the struggle between Cyril and the social worker who tries to take him back to the nursery home), but she volunteers to help him as a foster mother during weekends. Samantha may be a woman too good to be true, but De France radiates both warm, natural kindness and no-nonsense attitude. While caring a lot about Cyril, she does not block him from the harsh truth when she decides that it is necessary to do that for him.
One of the best moments in the film comes from when they finally meet his dad Guy, played by Jérémie Renier. We do not get much information about how he came to decide to leave Cyril behind, but Renier gradually reveals the selfishness of his character in the moment when Guy and Cyril are together in his new workplace. He is not that mean to his son, but he does not want his son enter into his life again. If you have watched the Dardenne brothers’ films, it will be interesting to you to watch Renier in this role, who has given consistently good performances in their several works. In “La Promesse”(1996), he was a son conflicting with his dad over their shady business involved with illegal immigrants. In “L’Enfant”(2005), he was an irresponsible young man who has given away his and his girlfriend’s baby without any hesitation just for money. And now, in this film, he is a lousy father who thinks he can discard his son easily for a new chapter in his life.
The story gets suspenseful when Cyril is swayed into a wrong direction by some juvenile delinquent he encounters on one day. Like Samantha, we can instantly see that Wes(Egon Di Mateo) is no good to Cyril, but Cyril has an aching hole in his heart he wants to fill, and he is willing to do anything for that. As a consequence, he gets involved in a big trouble he cannot solve for himself, with a painful life lesson to learn.
Maintaining their usual calm, objective approach to the story rolling with the free will of the characters, the Dardenne brothers capture several intense moments through their camera which patiently follows the characters or sticks with them. While it is notable that the cuts are more frequent in this film compared their previous works such as “The Son”(2002), there are good long-take scenes like the emotional moment when Cyril gets his heart broken not just once but twice. The camera steadily follows him riding the bike, and he does not say anything and nor does the movie, but the emotional turmoil behind his face races through dark night with him.
As the title role, Thomas Doret gives a solid debut performance while holding his place amid his veteran co-performers. He captures well the complex emotional state of a troubled kid with unpredictability, and the tension in the film depends on what he will do as well as what will happen to him. Doret and De France are very believable in their warm but dynamic relationship between them. Though there is a moment when their wills violently clash with each other, Cyril starts to accept this generous woman as a surrogate mother, and, later in the story, there is probably the sunniest scene in the Dardenne brothers’ career.
“The Kid with a Bike”, which received Grand prize of the Jury award in the Cannes Film Festival in the last year, is a warm film. Although it reminds us and Cyril of the harsh reality through the unexpected development near the finale, the ending is tentatively optimistic while consoling Cyril. I observed that the Dardenne brothers, who have seldom used music in their films, repeatedly used the classic piece by Beethoven in this film whenever Cyril is devastated. Well, who can’t be possibly sorry for this problematic kid?