The brother filmmaking team of Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne have a unique and unequalled style and quality to their films. Their most recent movie, “The Kid with a Bike” (2011), is a quiet but intense drama centering on a young boy and his desperate attempt to find his place in a world where he has constantly been rejected. As the film opens, eleven-year-old Cyril (Thomas Doret) is trying to find the father (Jeremin Renier) that has abandoned him. While searching for him, Cyril meets a hairdresser named Samantha (Cecile de France), who then goes and locates Cyril’s missing bicycle, buying it back for Cyril. Forming a connection to Samantha, Cyril asks if she will act as a foster parent to him on the weekends, and she agrees. The two form a friendship based on Samantha’s patience, kindness and her seemingly profound understanding about Cyril’s already disrupted life.
Having begun their career in documentary and “real life” filmmaking, the Dardenne brothers have a unique and unprecedented ability to make their films feel more realistic than most other being made today. It’s an experience for the viewers just as much as a source of entertainment. By writing, producing and directing their films, the Darrdenne brothers’ vision doesn’t get filtered through other members of the filmmaking team. It is just their creative idea being brought to life by themselves, with little outside interference. Cinematographer Alain Marcoen is one of the few outsiders allowed into the Dardennes’ creative vision, and his enhancements to this film are memorizing. The camera moves through “The Kid with a Bike” like poetry. Who would’ve thought a long take of a boy riding his bike would ever be so freeing and beautiful?
Typically their films also have little or no music, which some would say takes away from the dramatic effect, but others (like myself) would argue that it only enhances the realism. In “The Kid with a Bike”, instead of using score music, they allowed Beethoven and moments from his Adagio movement of “Emperor Concerto” to aid them in adding just a touch of un-acted and unscripted drama to their film. The final result is phenomenal.
An oddity in this film is the background of the Samantha character. There are so many unanswered questions like, “Who is she?”, “What are her motivations?” and “Why is this woman so completely selfless and caring?”. Don’t think for a minute that our lack of understanding is an accident or mistake. She is kind, loving, patient, sincere and even a bit angelic. She appears without a fanfare and doesn’t even seem to have the ability to do anything unkind. Cecile de France is a wonderful actress who isn’t given memorable dialogue here, but her physical acting transcends her character, thus propelling her performance.
Thomas Doret has proven to be an extremely talented young man, as he is in almost every moment of the film, but never appears to be anything other than a consummate professional. Doret has an exceptional ability to project his character in a new and fascinating way, despite the fact that the general idea of this film is neither new or original. We have seen other characters similar to young Cyril in films like “Kes” (1970) or “The 400 Blows” (1959), but unlike those classics of world cinema, “The Kid with a Bike” even goes further by showing a glimpse into Cyril’s future, filled with the possibility of hope, forgiveness and love.
“The Kid with a Bike” has recently been released into the Criterion Collection, and just like many of their other films, is loaded with some wonderful and insightful bonus features, as well as a new 2K digital transfer that has been supervised by the film’s director of photography, Alain Marcoen. As a result, it is a visually breathtaking film, filled with fluid camera movements, startling colors and an assortment of mind-numbing and unforgettable images.