The Kid with a Bike (Sundance Selects, NR)

film kid-with-a-bike_75The Kid with a Bike reveals itself as one of Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne’s best efforts of late.

 

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Although Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne are among the most internationally respected directors working today, their films always have a reek of sameness to them that I’ve often had trouble getting around. That is to say, while their films are generally great, you need only really see one, and that first one you see will likely be the one you like the best (mine was 1999’s Rosetta). The Dardenne brothers’ films are known for their neo-realistic qualities, and some of their more famous films (most notably, 1996’s La Promesse and 2005’s Palme d’Or-winning L’Enfant) feel like patches taken from the same quilt, insofar as they feature the same actors, themes, style, etc.

It’s time to add another patch to that quilt with their newest, The Kid with a Bike. The most obvious binding factor here is actor Jérémie Renier, originally a child actor who played the lead in La Promesse and went on to play a wildly irresponsible young father of a newborn in L’Enfant. Here, Renier plays a wildly irresponsible young father of a boy of 10 (give or take). Not that Renier actually plays the same character in all three films, but between the writer/directors, star, subject matter, and filming style, it’s hard not to imagine that he is the same.

Renier’s character is named Guy Catoul, but The Kid with a Bike’s real central character is his young son Cyril (newcomer Thomas Doret—the Dardennes are great with young, new actors: see Renier for an example—so you needn’t worry about his ability to perform). Cyril is obsessed with his never-there father but also with his bike, which is constantly being stolen. Beyond that, he’s a troublemaker who isn’t afraid to fight for his ground, regardless of whether it’s with bullies, adults, or whoever else may be in his way. Soon into the film’s running time he is taken in on weekends (he usually stays in a boys’ home, since Guy can’t be bothered to look after him) by a kindly local hairdresser Samantha (French superstar Cécile de France, working with the Dardennes for the first time). As Cyril and Samantha’s bond grows, so does Cyril’s with a local boy referred to as “The Dealer” by everyone in town. The Dealer promptly gets Cyril on his side by plying with video games and soda, and soon after has him making trouble on the Dealer’s behalf.

It is here that The Kid with a Bike reveals itself as one of the Dardennes’ best efforts of late; it’s far better than the more acclaimed L’Enfant, and surely their best work since 2002’s The Son. While most of the time their films are slow and methodical—and that’s fine—they’re surprisingly adept at handling suspense; as Cyril here gets deeper and deeper in trouble we as an audience get more of that than what one might expect going in. So while I’m still not terribly convinced that the Dardennes are as reputable as a lot of leading film critics make them out to be, if you’ve never experienced any of their films, The Kid with a Bike is a great place to start. Just don’t be surprised if you never find another film of theirs you like as much. | Pete Timmermann

 

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