The Kidâ€™s Not
Words by Avalon Lyndon
Take a look at the French poster for the Dardenne brothers’ latest film, The Kid with a Bike, and you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s all country lanes and picnic baskets. It pictures a young boy cycling in the sunshine along the waterfront with a beautiful woman, presumably his mother. You couldn’t be further from the truth. Following a young boy in care as he struggles to adapt to a new life, The Kid with a Bike is one of the most tense, enthralling and ultimately affecting films you’ll see this year. All gritted teeth and clenched fists, Cyril (Thomas Doret) refuses to believe that his father has abandoned him for good. He holes up in the office of his care home endlessly ringing his dad’s long-blocked number and runs away at any given chance. On one of these field trips he meets Samantha (Cécile De France) who, in all her infinite patience and kindness, agrees to take Cyril in at the weekends. And when a meeting she arranges with the boy’s father (Jérémie Renier) doesn’t quite go to plan, the tie between Samantha and Cyril becomes the only real thing he has left to hold on to – apart, of course, from his bike. But his continued search for a father figure draws him into the wrong crowd, and Cyril makes some terrible decisions that test this new-found bond almost to breaking point. “You can hold me, but just not too tight.” These are the words Samantha says to Cyril as they meet for the first time; he grabs onto her in a doctor’s waiting room, hiding from the workers who have come to take him back to the home. Had it been me he was clinging on to, I can’t say I would have reacted in the same way. Samantha, however, is like a kind of modern fairy godmother, fallen straight out of the sky to help Cyril when he needs it most. We’re never entirely sure why she reacts in the way that she does – why she puts her own personal relationships on hold for a little boy she barely knows. This ambiguity, which initially feels a little implausible, really makes the film once you allows yourself to go along with it. There’s a scene in the car between the two which is genuinely heartbreaking – harsh and delicate all at once. In fact, perhaps the bond between them is so profound precisely because it defies reason.
Like many Dardenne films (L’Enfant, The Silence of Lorna), The Kid with a Bike is about life on the fringes of Belgian society, about the struggle of innocence and optimism in the face of crushing, cynical reality. While Cyril might have found a fairy godmother in the shape of Samantha, he won’t be happy until he fills the hole left by his father’s departure. Cyril is basically just a little boy who wants to be loved. He might have been visibly hardened by what he has gone through, but he is still wide-eyed, guileless, hoping for something better. In life, however, there are people who prey on the naivety of others; when the local dealer takes Cyril under his wing, you know nothing good is going to come of it. While these themes might be familiar territory for Dardenne fans, The Kid with a Bike throws in a few stylistic curveballs to shake things up a little. Bastions of stripped-down naturalistic filmmaking,
the brothers have famously rejected musical scores in their past films. Here, however, we’re treated every so often to four bars of classical music, punctuating the narrative and underlining its key moments. “In a fairytale there has to be a development, with emotions and new beginnings,” explains Luc Dardenne. “It seemed to us that music, at certain points, could act like a calming caress for Cyril.” And that’s not the only difference. Their preference for available light sources over staged, artificial lighting has given much of their previous work a dark, murky edge. This film, however, seems somewhat ‘lighter’ than their previous work – a little more hopeful, perhaps. Crucially, The Kid with a Bike is the first Dardenne film shot in summertime. Ultimately, with all these stylistic tweaks, The Kid with a Bike has all the tension and anxious,
“The Kid with a Bike has all the tension and anxious, pulsing energy that you'd expect from a Dardenne brothers film” pulsing energy that you’d expect from a Dardenne brothers film. The poster for its British release is leagues ahead of its French counterpart, and may well have just saved this film’s bacon. After all, packaging The Kid with a Bike up as a life-affirming countryside caper is like pushing Margaret to the punters as a high school romcom. The Dardennes’ latest is incredibly gripping, relentlessly fraught and profoundly moving, with some phenomenal performances from the young Thomas Doret and the consistently brilliant Cécile De France. It’s no surprise this little film picked up the Grand Prix at Cannes last year. A genuine masterpiece.
The Kid with a Bike is in cinemas 23 March, via Artificial Eye