Compassionate, humane but never sentimental, ranks among the Dardennes’ very best work.
Among the most celebrated of contemporary filmmakers (with two Palme d’Ors to their name), Belgium’s Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne have established a formidable reputation for dealing with child-parent relationships and the struggles of the individual in a hostile and unforgiving society.
Remarkably, they have done this with scant concession to sentimentality. Organically evolving from the Dardennes’ background in documentary, films such as The Promise, Rosetta, The Son and most recently The Silence of Lorna merge observation and objectivity to astonishing effect, bestowing upon the works an innate sense of realism that makes viewing them an incredibly powerful (if emotionally draining) experience.
The Kid with a Bike may cover familiar thematic terrain, but there are a number of differences in approach, ensuring that it retains the potency and piquancy of earlier forays into the hinterland of poverty and struggle.
Cyril (Thomas Doret) is a feisty 11-year old whose heart is set on tracking down the father who placed him temporarily in ac hildren’s home. When phone calls go unanswered, Cyril, who initially refuses to acknowledge his abandonment, takes more decisive action, cornering the young and irresponsible Guy (Jérémie Renier) at the restaurant where he works. Guy discloses that he does not want his son in his life and that Cyril is, in effect, on his own.
Fizzing with rage and resentment, Cyril latches on to Samantha (Cécile De France), a local hairdresser with whom he forms an initially fragile bond. After Samantha manages to recover the beloved bike callously sold by Cyril’s father, the young boy senses that he has been the recipient of an act of pure and unexpected kindness and seeks to repair his torn and tattered life by asking Samantha to become his guardian.
Though always careful to infuse their stories with moments of great compassion and tenderness, the Dardennes often work from a muted winter palette that serves to emphasise the temporality of such instances. For the first time they shoot in summer, lending the material a lighter, less oppressive feel.
There is another first in the use of music: Beethoven’s ‘Emperor Concerto’ is sparingly employed and yet serves to offer an eloquent reminder that beauty and escape can be found in even the direst of circumstances.
Working with an established actor in fellow Belgian De France, Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne successfully extend their usual repertoire of performers, the most prominent of which, Olivier Gourmet and Renier, nonetheless again feature.
The character of Samantha could, in lesser hands, have been a rather clichéd figure of goodness, but there are enough hard edges to her and the film’s central relationship to ensure that this is never the case. De France’s performance is faultless. Newcomer Thomas Doret, sourced through the brothers’ open casting strategy, feels like yet another discovery.
None of the aforementioned refinements add up to concession or compromise. The Dardennes have described the film as something of a fairy tale (at one point they considered titling it Fairytale for our Times) and yet it’s one that looks with characteristic poignancy, honesty and integrity at the commonplace hurdles ordinary people face when attempting to make their way though life.
The latest from the acclaimed directors of Rosetta, The Child and The Son.
Compassionate, humane but never sentimental.
This ranks among the Dardennes’ very best work.