Title: The Kid With a Bike
Directors: Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne
Starring: Jeremie Renier, Cecile de France, Thomas Doret, Egon Di Mateo
Simple grace is a quality rarer in modern films than one might expect, as is the yard-by-yard, in-the-trenches slog of messy human connection, absent a lot of cathartic speechifying. Both are on rich display in French import “The Kid With a Bike,” however, the winner of the Grand Jury Prize at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, and a Best Foreign Language Film Golden Globe nominee. With their latest movie, fraternal portraitists Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne deliver a compelling character study of adolescent emotional dislocation, shining a light on the weight of both nature and nurture.
“The Kid With a Bike” centers, as one might surmise, on a title character, 11-year-old Cyril (newcomer Thomas Doret, an acting neophyte). Newly christened a ward of the state, and blind to the negative qualities of his shit-heel father, Guy (Jeremie Renier), Cyril is convinced that his abandonment is some sort of mistake. After being granted weekend furloughs with Samantha (Cecile de France), a hairdresser who seems surprised to find herself so determined to help him, Cyril finally tracks down his dad and discovers the cold, hard truth — his father is for some reason convinced that he can’t take care of him anymore. With neighborhood drug dealer Wes (Egon Di Mateo) taking him under his wing, the already emotionally fragile Cyril falls victim to the potential of bad influences, as Samantha struggles to ascertain whether she can tame his restless, roiled heart.
Parent-child relationships are often at the core of the Dardennes’ films (“The Promise,” “The Child,” “The Son”), and even though the main familial connection in “The Kid With a Bike” is not one of blood ties but instead a surrogate relationship, it is no less integral to the narrative. There’s a powerful and arresting naturalism and simplicity to the Dardennes’ work, rooted in the movie’s lack of grandiloquence. Wes’ rap isn’t some complex spiel, it’s a simple con game — a hood pulled over the eyes of a kid desperate for paternal attention, a kid probably very much like he used to be when he was younger. It connects so readily because of its lack of guile and complexity.
The performances in “The Kid With a Bike” are also special. De France (the anchor in Clint Eastwood’s “Hereafter”) is sympathetic, and Doret — in his unmannered forthrightness — also cuts a striking figure. Spare but never without thought and care, the Dardennes’ movie unfolds on a precipice of loss and confusion, teetering in the wind. It’s a stirring reminder of the variety of divergent paths that life affords each of us, and how the more nuanced consideration of those choices and decisions can be corrupted by the white-hot heat of overriding emotion.
Written by: Brent Simon