Released in Belgium as `Le gamin au velo' in 2011 this is the story of Cyril played by Thomas Doret. He is an 11 year old child whose father has sent him to a children's home for a while until he gets sorted. Meanwhile his father has stopped using his phones so his son cant even contact him and Cyril gets completely over wrought and escapes in order to track down his papa.
He also wants his beloved bike back, but soon finds out that papa has done a moonlight flit. Then by accident he runs into Samantha, a local hairdresser with a heart of gold. She starts to help him and soon a relationship forms, but hanging around his fathers old haunts puts him at the mercy of some of the local ne'er do wells and things are going to happen.
This is one of those small independent films that some avoid like a rabid pooch and others embrace like a fluffy kitten. I am in the middle and actually really appreciated this effort; the fabulously named Cecile de France is superb as the caring Samantha. I really could not have done what she did for this quite unruly child. Thomas Doret is also brilliant as the irascible little tyke. Some will have issues with the ending which can be seen as `too easy' but it also avoids the rather unwelcoming pit that is over sentimentality. This then is for fans of World and especially Gallic cinema who like to think about their films and not just let them wash over you, so if that floats your `bateau' then this should be right up your `rue'. Apologies for my appalling French.
on March 4, 2012
If you only like mainstream Hollywood movies, don't bother reading the rest of this or getting this film.
But if you love cinema, you should know Belgium's Dardennes brothers are film masters and this is the latest in their body of work. A young boy abandoned by his parents meets a hairstylist while trying to reconnect with his absent father. He works through his rage as he learns that love is a choice, not an obligation and who really loves him. Astonishing performances, elegant film making.
It seems that the best films about human nature, or real topics that actually matter, are made outside the Hollywood system. I suppose anguish and inner turmoil doesn't translate into an exciting viewing experience, or one that will encourage people to pay to see the film. I understand that equation, and it makes me respect filmmakers who attempt to bring to life these rarely shown topics.
The Kid with a Bike is one such film. It sits on the top row of my movie collection right next to Kes, and that's so appropriate. Both films are about childhood, and boys who do not have a loving family environment. Incidentally, both were made in Europe.
The title reminds me of The Bicycle Thief, and I found that to be one of the most touching and realistic portrayals of a father/son relationship. The Kid with a Bike is touching in a different way.
This review contains spoilers, and reveals a similar amount of information as the trailer. If you don't want to know anything else about the story, please stop reading now.
The film is about 11-year-old Cyril Catoul (Thomas Doret), who lives in a children's home. His mother isn't mentioned at any point in the story, and his father has abandoned him. The opening scenes show Cyril trying to come to terms with his situation. He doesn't believe that his father wouldn't want him, or that he would move out of his apartment without telling Cyril where he was going. Cyril is angry and aggressive, and only calms down a little when he's shown that his father's old apartment is truly empty.
During his struggles, he grabs hold of a woman. She's Samantha (Cécile De France), and wants to help. She locates the man who bought Cyril's bike from his father, and buys it back for him. He refuses to accept that his father would sell it, insisting that it must have been stolen. He barely remembers to thank Samantha for her kindness, but races after her and asks if he can stay with her on the weekends. She says that she will call the home and try to arrange it.
Cécile De France is not a stunning beauty, but she's an incredibly warm actress. If you saw her performance in Hereafter, you'll know what I mean. She has a way of making you believe that she is intelligent, sensitive, thoughtful, and caring. This ability makes her an excellent choice for the role. We are never told why Samantha lives alone, but it partly explains why she might find it important to help Cyril. Is she looking for the kind of love that a child might offer, or does she merely empathize with his plight, and is hoping to give him the kind of love that she didn't have as a child?
Cyril is hard to like for much of the film. He's often angry, deeply mistrustful of adults, and disobedient when he doesn't get exactly what he wants. Samantha manages to arrange a meeting with his father, and Cyril finally learns some difficult truths about the man. I connected with this part of the film because I never knew my own father. Luckily, I grew up in a loving environment with my mother and grandparents. My experiences helped me to understand anger, and the need to be as independent as possible. Cyril doesn't trust adults because he can't be sure they will be there for him when it matters.
One boy in the neighborhood is keen to befriend him, but Cyril is more drawn to an older boy who is suspected of dealing drugs. He's seemingly kind to Cyril, but we know that he's simply trying to gain trust, and that his true motives haven't yet been revealed. It works to some degree because Cyril responds to actions rather than promises.
This is a film about decisions. What are Samantha's reasons for trying to help him? What does his father really want? Should Cyril keep hoping for love that he may never have from his father, or settle for the love that is being offered by Samantha? Will he ever control his anger and become worthy of anyone's love?
The Dardenne brothers ask a lot of questions and provide very few answers, but the closing scene suggests that Cyril has learned something about life, and that his future might not be as bleak as his current existence.
The Criterion package is superb, and comes with a booklet, a great transfer, and more than two hours of special features. If you are interested in the Dardenne brothers, one interview lasts 74 minutes and reveals a lot about their methods.
The Kid with a Bike is not an easy film to watch, and the payoff is implied rather than shown. However, it's a strong, realistic portrayal of childhood, and the performances do it justice. If you like to contemplate life, it's worth your time.
Overall score 4.5/5