Directed by two-time Palme d’Or-winning Belgium duo Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, The Kid with a Bike (Le Gamin au Vélo, 2011) continues a remarkably consistent partnership. We’re thrust straight into the action as the film opens with a young boy whose life of conflict and disobedience has resulted in him running away from the children’s home his father (Jeremie Renier) has abandoned him in. His name is Cyril (Thomas Doret), a deeply troubled boy, wrestling with the hefty emotions evoked by paternal rejection.
His escapades literally lands him in the arms of Samantha (Cécile de France) a caring hairdresser who, despite her lack of experience with children, inexplicably decides to foster this rebellious adolescent over weekends. She takes on the responsibility of both caring for Cyril, whilst also assisting him in his attempts to discover the ware bouts of his wayward father. However, Cyril’s determination soon becomes an insurmountable barrier, blinding him to the compassionate charity of Samantha, whilst his subconscious need for a father figure leads him into a destructive friendship with a neighbourhood troublemaker.
Doret’s performance as The Kid with a Bike’s tragically orphaned protagonist is truly sublime, displaying a thoroughly focused, yet subtly fragile demeanour which demands the viewer’s attention. His abundance of energy, fuelled by his deep-seated anger over the emotionally crippling rejection he’s encountered, drives the film forward with an electrifying pace. Gripping and at times genuinely heartbreaking, his frantic search for the paternal love he so greatly desires creates a mesmerising and at times, harrowing experience.
Opening with a tense encounter between Cyril and one of his guidance councillors, The Kid with a Bike, never stops for breath, only sporadically enlightening us with plot illuminating conversations. Much like Cyril searching for his runaway father, the audience is enticed into its own investigation behind the events which unfold. The Dardenne brothers do however assist the viewer, with a modest, yet emotive score which is used sparingly and only to enhance the important changes in Cyril’s life.
The Kid with a Bike is not just an impassioned examination of the devastation paternal rejection can create but also a gloriously loving snapshot of life. Even the film’s titular bike is a metaphor for the constant transitions in life Cyril goes through, with it only being towards the end of the final act, when we witness him share a leisurely bike ride with Samantha, that we finally feel safe in the knowledge he’s found somebody who can keep his life on course. This subtle symbolism is just one of the many facets which make The Kid with a Bike, such a resounding success, once again showcasing the talent of the Dardennes’ to imitate the gritty realism of life on screen whilst also creating something profoundly beautiful.
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