Keswick Film Club - Reviews - The Kid with a Bike

Reviews - The Kid with a Bike

The Kid with a Bike

Reviewed By John Stakes

The Kid with a Bike
The Kid with a Bike
Described as Belgian’s answer to Ken Loach, and following a screen career in compiling sixty documentaries, the highly regarded directorial duo the Dardenne Brothers turned their attention to narrative films in the late 1980s. Their focus has been on working class Belgian life featuring the likes of a tenement owner, carpenter, petty thief, single parent, and now, in their 2011 Cannes Jury prize winner "The Kid With A Bike" we are introduced to Cyril, a 12 years old boy abandoned by his father and now in foster care.

The brothers’ association with gritty working life and social issues grew out of their upbringing in industrial Seraing, a steel-making city which exported its product to help create modern-day New York. They received no formal film school training and their only artistic learning came from some theatre work.

They quickly became inseparable professionally each feeling the need for the other’s input. This is their first film to deploy the use of (occasional) music. They had previously found “no place for it – maybe we’ve not found the right music but our rhythm has been the sounds we hear on the set and the noises made by human bodies”.

Their films are naturalistic in tone, an effect achieved by their working methods with the actors and the use of hand held cameras and natural light. Asked to explain why music was included here they responded by saying it functioned as a calming influence when set against Cyril’s troubled world and, this time, it felt right.

Cyril’s life is indeed far from settled. Now in foster care the lad misses his father and bike. Both went missing at the same time. He is befriended by Samantha whom he meets in a doctor’s office to which he has fled after being caught by the caretaker of the apartment block where he used to live with his father. When Samantha returns his bike, Cyril thinks she has stolen it from his father but later finds out his father took the bike and sold it. From this point Cyril’s life nosedives as he is sucked into local youth crime culture and his father rejects him. Samantha becomes his surrogate foster mother which helps Cyril to begin to come to terms with growing up.

The Dardenne brothers’ films have been described as stark but modest portraits of young people at society’s fringes. Here there is a fresh, modern, slightly contrived feel to a film set not on some sink estate but in a tree-lined suburb of Liege which contributes to the note of optimism which eventually surfaces as Cyril struggles to make sense of his life.

The camera pursued Cyril everywhere; along roads, down alleys, over walls and through doors. His defensive mask of a face could not conceal his love for his father whose rejection of him was heartbreaking. Thankfully hairdresser Samantha was on hand to whom he could turn when again rejected this time by “The Dealer”, the leader of the local gang to whom Cyril had become drawn in his search for recognition and identity. A great performance by Thomas Duret as Cyril.

"The Kid With A Bike" is the second of the Dardenne Bros films to focus on parental loss. In "L’Enfant" Bruno, a 20 years old father sells his baby for cash to survive, only to have second thoughts and later buy it back. But his petty crime filled life on the margin prevents him from functioning in any significant way as a parent. The film won the duo their second Palme D’Or in 2005.

It is the proximity of their camera work to their subject matter and attention to detail which so vividly capture the essence of the social issues to which they wish to highlight and bring their characters to life enabling us to sympathise and identify with them. "TheKid With A Bike" maintains this feeling of identification right up to its faintly upbeat denouement, and leaves the audience sensing that Cyril has now become an established survivor. Direct, unequivocal, physical and involving film-making at its very best which Ken Loach fans would no doubt readily embrace. Keswick’s audience ranked it high in the club’s popularity poll this season.

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