Music Feature

Film Review: The Kid With the Bike

by Piers Marchant
The understated triumph of the Dardenne Brothers

Dir. Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne
Score: 7.1

We can add to the international pantheon of cinematic sad-faced young boys that of Cyril (Thomas Doret), a sandy-blonde kid whose completely useless father has left in the care of a state-run youth counseling center in the Dardenne Brothers latest naturalist narrative. When we first meet him, he's desperately dialing and redialing the disconnected number of his father's last known whereabouts, his perpetually down-turned expression revealing hauntingly little of the heartbreak raging in his chest.

It's really only when a kindly local hairdresser, Samantha (Cécile De France), agrees to take Cyril for weekends, that we get to know the depths and levels of his anguish. At first, he spends all his free time attempting to track down his father's whereabouts, convinced that he'll be taken back once he finds him, but when he finally does meet Guy (Jérémie Renier) again, the meeting goes from bad to worse. Stricken and rudderless, it's not long before young Cyril has taken up with a local thug, Wes (Egon Di Mateo), who convinces him to run a crime for him, a task whose ill-gained profit Cyril refuses to take ("I do it for you," the boy says, pathetically). But it is only when Cyril has at last exhausted all other possibilities that he can begin to take an important re-evaluation of his life.

In typical Dardenne fashion, Cyril's narrative is never easy, simple or broad. The brothers have achieved in their remarkably no-nonsense, underplayed style, a manner of conveying their characters' plight that almost never feels staged, phony or, worse yet, unearned. With simple, hand-held camera movements, and a disdain for melodrama, the Brothers' films attain a kind of hard-won realism, bereft of showy set pieces and flashy acting. Instead of plunging into the murky depths of the human psyche with an obvious agenda of emotional platitudes, their films play out like small Chekhovian dramas, where small details make a difference and the image of a bloodied but unbowed sweat-sheened boy racing down a street on his bike is cause for quiet exhilaration.

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