The Kid with a Bike (Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne, 2011): Belgium/France/Italy

Reviewed by Byron Potau. Viewed at The Egyptian Theatre as part of the 2011 AFI Film Festival.

The Kid with a Bike

Told with the same sensitivity and realism as some of their best work, it is a shame The Kid with a Bike falters right at the beginning by failing to provide the necessary foundation for the rest of the film.

11 year old Cyril (Thomas Doret) is having trouble coming to terms with his father abandoning him to a children’s home and moving away. He repeatedly tries to get in touch with his father, even running away from the school to try and find him at his former apartment, but with no success. It is there he literally runs into Samantha (Cecile de France) when the school officials are chasing him. After their brief encounter, Samantha tacks down Cyril’s bike which his father had sold and buys it back for him. Cyril then asks if Samantha will take him home with her on weekends.

Together they track down Cyril’s father who tells Cyril he cannot take care of him and does not want to see him anymore. He also asks that Samantha take care of him. Cyril becomes more troublesome and his behavior eventually causes enough tension with Samantha and her boyfriend that they break up, but Samantha refuses to give up on Cyril and abandon him as his father did.

As is typical with the Dardenne brother’s films, the camera work by Alain Marcoen is very intimate, and the acting from Thomas Doret and Cecile de France and the rest of the cast achieves a realism that goes almost unnoticed. The Dardenne brothers show such a control over their cinema in this and previous films where the scenes look more like life than cinema.

If only directors Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne had thought to give Samantha a reason to take care of Cyril the film could have been as powerful and memorable as any of their previous films. However, despite the strong acting, solid camerawork, and heartfelt realism, I can’t help but ask why Samantha would get involved in the first place.

She has never met Cyril before, only meets him briefly when he is holding onto her when school representatives are trying to take him back, yet she feels compelled to search out this kid’s bike and buy it back for him, spend her weekends taking care of him, and continues to do so when his bratty behavior causes her boyfriend to leave her. The Dardenne brothers never give any insight into Samantha’s character or what would lead her to take such an interest in Cyril and be so willing to upend her life for him.

It is ultimately this lack of a legitimate reason for this character’s motivation that the film cannot succeed. In other film’s the ambiguity of a character’s motivation may have served well, but here it needed to be explored and the filmmakers failed to do that.

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