The Kid With A Bike (Le gamin au vélo) (2011)

The Kid With A Bike (Le gamin au vélo) first published by Film4

Summary: The latest naturalistic drama from the Dardenne brothers to chronicle the Liège underclass, The Kid With A Bike follows a young boy’s quest for his absent father. 

Review: “Why can’t you come?” asks young Mourad (Youssef Tiberkanine) when his new, equally young neighbour Cyril (Thomas Doret) rejects an invitation to the cinema. “It’s in 3D. It’ll be fun!”

Cyril’s refusal to go along represents a wittily oblique encapsulation of the filmmaking aesthetic that drives the Dardenne brothers. For their films, too, eschew the eye-popping sensationalism of Hollywood blockbusters, preferring the sort of rigorous naturalism and demi-monde environs more usually associated with the oeuvre of Robert Bresson (Pickpocket, Mouchette, L’Argent). 

Cyril does not want to go to the local flicks because he has an appointment with Wes (Egon Di Mateo), a manipulative hoodlum exploiting the boy’s need for a father figure. Abandoned by his own dad Guy (Jérémie Renier, also a feckless father in the Dardennes’ The Child) to a state-run children’s home, Cyril clings tenaciously to the unrealistic prospect of Guy coming back for him. Indeed, when we first meet Cyril (nicknamed ‘Pitbull’ by Wes for his tenacity), he refuses to return a telephone to one of his carers, desperately clutching the receiver as though it were a lifeline to his father (who is absent even from telecommunications). Later, when Cyril runs away to look for his father in what was once their apartment, the boy tries to evade his carers by clinging desperately to a compete stranger. “Not so tight, it hurts,” protests Samantha (Cécile de France) – but moved by the boy’s (and perhaps her own) intense neediness, the hairdresser locates Cyril’s beloved bike for him, and agrees to foster him on weekends. 

“I’m not dreaming,” Cyril insists to Samantha – yet it is precisely the boy’s gradual, painful disillusionment that The Kid With A Bike traces, as Cyril comes to grips with the unwelcome truth about his father’s disinterest, learns to accept someone else’s unconditional love, and starts to take responsibility for his own actions. With the Dardennes’ regular DP Alain Marcoen following Cyril’s rites of passage in unobtrusive tracking shots, the film never soft-pedals the treacherous byways and alternative routes that Cyril only narrowly avoids on his road to security and happiness. Here institutionalisation, criminality, even death itself, are no more than a stone’s throw away – and, in a suitably cyclical depiction of morality, what goes around comes around. 

Meanwhile, some expertly handled moments of heightened tension – and Doret’s spirited, forceful debut – obviate any need for the addition of 3D.             

In a nutshell: The Kid With A Bike cuts to the humanist heart of a boy’s troubled rite de passage, without ever resorting to exaggerated emoting or cheap sensationalism.  

© Anton Bitel