Both a fiercely realistic crime drama and a tender, unsentimental, story of maternal love, “The Kid with a Bike” by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne is one of the best films I’ve seen in years.
Ex-documentarians known for their realism and compassion for troubled characters – “The Promise” (1996), “Rosetta” (1999), “The Son” (2002), “The Child” (2005), “Lorna’s Silence” (2008) – the Dardenne brothers won the Cannes Film Festival’s Grand Jury prize for their latest work.
Watching “Kid,” set in Belgium’s Meuse valley, we meet Cyril (Thomas Doret), a restless, stubborn and intense 11-year-old boy, whose coldly negligent father Guy (Jérémie Renier) has placed him in a group home for children. Sure that this situation is temporary, Cyril figures that if he can leave the home and recover his bike, he’ll be able to reconnect with his father. His search plays a bit like a detective story as he tracks down the bike and his dad, only to be sent back to the home.
Shortly after this setback, Cyril randomly clings to a woman named Samantha (Cécile de France) and she is moved to try to help him, allowing him to leave the home on weekends to stay with her. Though Samantha is patient and generous, the boy’s craving for his father’s affection and a budding friendship with a neighborhood gang leader (chillingly played by Egon Di Mateo) gets Cyril into trouble, the repercussions of which could change the course of his life.
The film masterfully blends moods and genres – domestic drama, crime movie and fantasy. Says Jean-Pierre Dardenne: “We wanted to construct the film as a kind of fairy tale with baddies who make the boy lose his illusions, and Samantha, who appears as a kind of fairy.”
Poignant performances – newcomer Doret is a natural – assured direction, restrained writing and arresting use of music make “The Kid with a Bike” an exceptional cinematic achievement.
“The Kid with a Bike” opens today in LA and New York.