Cyril Catoul (newcomer Thomas Doret) is an eleven year-old with a single focus - to reunite with his father, who told him his current situation at a state run boarding school was temporary. Even after Cyril's persistence reveals that his father is no longer in the apartment they once shared, he refuses to believe he's been abandoned and that his father still holds his most beloved possession. After a violent run in with local hairdresser Samantha (Cécile De France, "High Tension," "Hereafter"), she proves to be his savior, tracking down his wheels and agreeing to weekend foster "The Kid with a Bike."
Since their breakthrough film, 1996's "La Promesse," the Dardenne brothers have been celebrating those society overlooks, particularly in regards to children. Their latest threads back to previous works in intriguing and satisfying ways but one doesn't need to have seen one of their previous films to appreciate this one. Using their simple, unadorned style, Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne and their remarkable find, Thomas Doret, put us squarely inside the mindset of an eleven year-old boy refusing to accept his rejection.
The fresh-faced, red-headed Doret embodies the nickname he'll be given by the neighborhood's teenaged Fagin, Wes (Egon Di Mateo) an apparent immigrant who recruits Cyril after being impressed by his doggedness getting his bike back after one of Wes's gang has stolen it for the second time. He dubs Cyril Pitbull which is just right for a kid who runs after his goal at every chance and latches on with a bite that will not let go. Before he ever crosses paths with Wes, we've witnessed this behavior as he slips away from one authority figure to another, using street smarts to slip past school guardians and apartment security buzzers. He runs away and is brought back.
But when he hangs onto a random woman in a clinic waiting office in a last ditch attempt to avoid a capture, we do not appreciate how significant the moment is. Samantha appears later at Cyril's school, having learned the boy's plight and located the bicycle she heard him describe. Furthermore she's bought it back from the man his father sold it to. Cyril accepts the bike, but not her explanation, yet when she drives off he follows, asking if he can come to her on weekends. Just like that, she agrees.
"The Kid with a Bike" chronicles the struggles between Cyril and Samantha as she tries to tame his wildness with love and understanding. Not all the Dardennes' protagonists achieve redemption, but in this one, like in their "The Son," a young boy finally realizes just what his benefactor has endured for him and reopens himself up to love. In casting Jérémie Renier as Cyril's father, the filmmakers lead us back to the boy of "La Promesse" who came to a crossroads with his father and to the young man of "L'Enfant" who also gave up a son in a quest for the material things of life. In fact, we last saw him riding away on a bicycle in "Lorna's Silence," another film in which a woman loses her lover protecting a child. And then there's De France, their first casting of a red carpet star, and yet the Belgian actress is so right and natural here she largely makes us accept this woman's extraordinary compassion.
Cyril goes to some dark places in his need for a father figure before Samantha fully engages the boy, and yet this may be the sunniest of the Dardennes' films to date, both literally and figuratively. The filmmakers turn an ugly act of vengeance into an uplifting acceptance of penance. Crime and compassion, sin and sacrifice are opposing forces of human existence, but these filmmakers use the friction they generate to kindle humankind's greatest emotion - love.
Robin did not see this film.
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10 | Video
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