Keeping it in the family has always worked well for the Dardenne brothers, Jean-Pierre and Luc. Hailing from Belgium, the brothers’ formula of writing, directing and producing their films together has served them well, bringing intensely natural film-making to our screens since the mid-90s when they first became Cannes favourites. The Dardenne brothers have been Cannes darlings since Rosetta (1999) won the Palme D’Or, then again with L’Enfant (2005) and in 2011 winning the Grand Prix for The Kid With a Bike, which is receiving its UK premiere at the BFI London Film Festival.
The Kid With a Bike is a soft and poetic film, typical of the Dardennes, with each frame imbued with the gentleness of small town life. However life is never still, Cyril (Thomas Doret) – the eponymous kid with the bike – is never still, like the proverbial Duracell Bunny, he runs, jumps, cycles, even when he is sitting down his chest heaves, his eyes wander – as though he is constantly finding ways to escape and keep moving.
Abandoned by his waste of space father (Jérémie Renier), Cyril has found himself trapped in a children’s home, allegedly a temporary solution while his dad saved money, but as time passes, Cyril grows increasingly impatient, and all the more so considering his dad still has his beloved bike. Making his escape, Cyril returns to his dad’s old apartment with the hopes of retrieving his bike only to be captured by his carers following a fracas in a doctor’s waiting room. It is here that he meets Samantha (Cécile de France), a hairdresser who finds herself on the receiving end of Cyril’s particularly vigorous hug, one which sparks a unique friendship and ignites in her a maternal instinct she never knew she had, and in Cyril, perhaps one he didn’t know he wanted.
Agreeing to take care of Cyril at weekends, we watch as Cyril’s anger begins to subdue as Samantha’s tenderness breaks through his tough exterior. For a young actor, Doret is superb and under the pupilage of the Dardenne’s looks set to continue to do wonderful things. While on paper, The Kid With a Bike reads like a cheap daytime film, young boy angry at dad, meets lovely lady who becomes makeshift mum, the script avoids sentimentality, a key aim of the Dardenne’s.
It is a film of many life lessons, predominantly forgiveness in the face of those who wrong you, and those that you may wrong along the way, as we all try and get on in what can be a truly criminal world. It is gritty and at times, brutal; and sometimes you wonder why Samantha cares so much about this little terror but then the director’s have a way of making you see the world through Cyril’s sad eyes that makes it all clear.
The Kid With a Bike is a substantial piece of work and one that is worthy of joining the Dardenne’s already essential body of work – and one that you should definitely make sure you see.
The Kid With a Bike will be screened at the 55th BFI London Film Festival (in partnership with American Express) as part of the World Cinema strand, on Friday 21 and Sunday 23 October.
For times and venues visit the BFI website.