Thursday 9 August 2012


(Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne, 2011) Part of the magic of the cinema of the Dardennes Brothers is the way they seem to conjure stories from nothing. Take The Kid with the Bike as an example. It observes a few months in the life of Cyril (Thomas Doret), a 12 year old boy living in foster care at a childrens home in Seraing, Belgium. He is obsessed with finding his father (Jermie Renier) who has left his old apartment and changed his phone number. Eventually he meets Samantha (Cecile de France), a hair dresser who is kind to him, and who agrees to let him live with her at weekends. From these simple elements, the Dardennes create a modern sort of fairytale about innocence, trust, love and responsibility, as Cyril has to learn to let his father go and accept the love Samantha is offering him. The story puts the characters through some emotional and physical violence - Cyril is a damaged boy with a propensity for lashing out - which goes some way to leavening the formulaic nature of that arc of ultimate redemption, and includes a typically low-key and banal criminal episode near the narratives end. By this point, the Dardennes methodology is a smoothly running machine, their blocking, camera placement and cutting all near-invisible. The story and characters are all, making the cast crucial. Young Doret is magnetic in the lead, his soulful face utterly watchable and enigmatic, and the Dardennes frequently allow their camera to follow him for extended passages as he wheels through the suburbs on his bike. De France and Renier offer excellent, authentic-seeming support, the latter appearing to revisit his character from the earlier The Child. This is a film filled with shots of adults stealing looks at a young boy, always evaluating and wondering about him, just as the audience is. It feels slightly different from their earlier films; it is set in Summer and as such, features an airier, brighter and more colourful view of the Industrial town of Seraing. Much of the action takes place in a vivid, leafy housing estate on sun-dappled days and warm nights, and the film includes music, previously not part of the Dardennes armoury. Here they use Beethoven's Adagio, from the Fifth Piano Concerto, and while it adds a layer of emotional resonance, it simultaneously appears both overly sentimental and manipulative. That isn't entirely a criticism, for it is one of the factors that helps make The Kid with a Bike a truly moving experience.

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