THE KID WITH A BIKE Review

When I first watched the trailer for "The Kid with a Bike" I was engaged not by the fact that it was a foreign film that had clearly made an impression (otherwise how would it have been playing before an American film?) but instead I was intrigued by the simple story it seemed to be telling. A universal story at that. Even the simple title of the film seems to serve as a reminder that this is not a tale specifically catered to the country that has produced it, but rather addresses emotions that every single person on the planet could relate to. As with the Academy award winning foreign film "A Separation" (which is also the last non-English film I saw) this shares that same interesting dynamic of everyday problems in a world that would otherwise seem so foreign to the average American mind. It is also notable as this is the latest feature from the Dardenne brothers. The directing team who are known for their naturalistic films that document lower class life in Belgium and are Cannes film festival regulars (this film won last years Grand Prix award) have captured a snapshot of youth that, while I have not seen any of their previous work, seems to be a constant through much of their films. From what I have heard about the directors though this film is very much a departure from their more stark style in turn for a lighter reflection of the world they have become so accustomed to documenting. The film is certainly engaging on the most basic of levels but it also contains some peculiar areas that show the difference not only in lifestyle between classes but also in the way of life between cultures. The main character, the "kid" in the title is a complex pre-teen who we don't always like (in fact alot of the time we can't stand him) who is dealing with a life event in ways that are somewhat expected but others that make us question how well we really understand not just his world, but our own.

Guy (Jeremie Renier) and his son Cyril (Thomas Doret)
share one brief moment together.
Now, that all may sound very conflicting as I stated that the film presents a predicament many people could relate to but also seem to think that the actions of this character lend to a misperception of others lifestyles. The main conflict within the plot is obviously something children everywhere might have to deal with to a certain degree but the way in which our protagonist deals with this event is what sets the culture apart. The story centers around 12 year-old Cyril (love the name) who is currently in foster care because his father has abandoned him. He is a mischievous young boy who seems to want to do everything he can to go against his superiors. He is determined to find his father with the mindset that is father is searching for him as well. His father also holds Cyril's most precious possession, his bike. Cyril is ignorant to the fact that his father has rejected him by choice and it takes more than showing him his fathers emptied apartment to convince him of this. In the process of trying to escape the foster care staff he flees through a doctor's office where he latches onto a woman in the waiting room. This chance encounter makes a bigger impression on the woman, who's name in Samantha, than anything in the film or anyone in the audience is led to understand. The next morning Samantha played by the wonderfully lovely and subdued Cecile De France (Hereafter) shows up with Cyril's bike simply because she seemed to sense a kind of connection with the young red head. Though Cyril still holds out hope he may be reconnected with his father he asks if Samantha will keep him on the weekends. She agrees, and off is not the adventures of Cyril and Samantha, but is instead a tough journey towards self-discovery at too young an age and facing the hard facts of life with the thought of consequences removed from his young mind.

The Kid with a Bike pedals with uncertainty.
While this is clearly a story about the progress of the character of Cyril it is how the character navigates his journey that interested me more than anything. As said, I didn't necessarily like the character all that much. He seemed a stubborn, ungrateful kid much of the time despite what he was going through. I myself have never had to deal with the absence of a parent but this young boy has looked his father in the face and heard him speak the words that his life would be easier without him. Still, I had trouble understanding what would then make him take for granted the opportunity to be taken care of by a sweet woman who would go out of her way to make sure he had food on the table and a place to sleep at night. What was his motivation? Why would he still want to go out and risk this new found ease for the companionship of a local drug dealer and thief. How could he so easily be coaxed into friendship, so easily influenced by the temptation of Assasin's Creed on Xbox. While this acting out still seems to come in full circle back to the daddy issue it also manages to address how, in the end, it is truly important to do what is right. Yes, Cyril has a time with accepting his father is a child himself and cannot take care of him but he also comes to realize the morality of his actions and what he goes through allows him to develop that compass which points him in the right direction. As Cyril, newcomer Thomas Doret is nearly flawless as he delivers his lines not with a calculated knowledge of meaning but with a quick, natural sense that displays his disdain for the world around him. The Dardenne's dress him in red in every frame of the film and though it is never clearly stated why (we could just say it's the boys favorite color) but it clearly represents that pent up anger and aggression the character possesses. That natural fire the boy will never lose.

Cyril finds peace with Samantha (Cecile De France).
In the end, Cyril's journey comes full circle when he is made to atone for what he has done which was caused by his feeling of loss. It is a lovely sentiment and a peaceful note for the simplistic film to go out on that delivers its moral lesson with just the right amount of understanding. I enjoyed the film. I am not one to seek out foreign films so as to make myself feel more cultured. In many ways, my movie-going mind is somewhat similar to Cyril's in that I don't like to accept that what I don't know as well, what I am not as familiar with is just as good, if not better than what I have been accustomed to. While I'm sure there are plenty of features, little gems just like "The Kid with a Bike" that I am missing out on I can at least feel good about the fact I was afforded the opportunity to see a Dardenne picture in its theatrical run.  It is a film about childhood that follows a normal, betrayed young man into the heart of his pain. With its free wheeling camera and little moments of musical inspiration the Dardenne brothers have captured not just innocence of childhood but what happens when that experience is interrupted by adults, parents too selfish to allow their young the right to enjoy that time in their life. It speaks to the children of divorce, of abandonment and lets them know that what is not conventional can sometimes turn around for other life experiences to help define who you are as a person. It is an engaging film from start to finish and one that deserves its praise and worldwide recognition. Not because it is some bombastic, profound story with elaborate filmmaking techniques but instead for all of the opposite reasons.