Kid With a Bike, The (2011): Directed by Dardenne Brothers, Starring Cecile de France

(Le Gamin au velo)

Cannes Film Fest 2011 (World Premiere, in Competition)—“The Kid with a Bike,” the new terrific film of the Belgian brothers Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne, is their six feature to world premiere at the Cannes Film Fest. They belong to a select group of international filmmakers who have won the top prize, the Palme d’Or, not once but twice, for “Rosetta” in 1999 and for “The Child” (“L’Enfant”) in 2005.

Continuing their tradition of exploring the lives of ordinary working-class folks, “Kid With a Bike” finds the Dardennes at the top of their form, with an emotionally compelling tale about a lost adolescent (splendidly played by Thomas Doret) and the adults that shape his life, and teach him to assume responsibility for it, either by their presence or their absence.

The title of the new film immediately grounds it in the tradition of the Italian neo-realism of the late 1940s and 1950s, specifically the work of Vittorio de Sica in such movies about children as “Shoeshine” and “The Bicycle Thieves.”  Yet unlike De Sica and his colleagues, the Dardennes never let their tale slide into sheer sentimentality.

Like their previous films, all the elements of “Kid With a Bike, cohere into a poignant narrative that’s highly emotional, but still leaves some room for ambiguity and interpretation in its defiance of a more simplistic cause and effect structure.

Also like their best work, “Kid with a Bike” is a coming-of-age morality tale, one that’s more about characterization than plot, more about tone and mood than psychological motivation.

The movie is set in Seraing, the blue-collar industrial town that’s been the site of the Dardennes’ earlier efforts.

When we first meet Cyril, the film’s 12 year protagonist, he is in desperate (even hysterical) need to retrieve his bicycle and to find his father, who had deserted him. Residing in a children’s home, initially, Cyril deludes himself that his father’s absence is just temporary, that it’s only a matter of time before they reunite.

Agitated and angry, he runs away to his previous apartment, where he is told that his father had left a month ago and that he now works in a local restaurant.

A chance meeting with Samantha (Cecile de France), a gentle woman who runs a hairdressing salon, proves to be fatal, when she agrees (at first under pressure) to let Cyril stay with her during the weekends.

Joining forces, the two retrieve the missing bike and also find the father, who informs Cyril that he no longer wants him. Cyril doesn’t take no for an answer and he goes back to visit his dad, only to be rejected again.

Though more linear, softer, and simpler than some of the Dardennes’ previous efforts, “Kid with a Bike” is just as compelling and one of a piece. The film boasts the signature style of the Dardennes, who began their careers in documentaries, marked by hand-held restless camera, fast-pacing, and nonjudgmental approach.

Like most of the Dardennes films, “Kid with a Bike” takes its time to deliver its emotional punches, and the last scene, which cannot be described here, is particularly powerful.

Each of the Dardenne features is a morality tale that revolves around random but fateful meetings, making decisions (good and bad), commitments and promises, and in this respect “Kid with a Bike” is just another panel in their evolving output.

It’s noteworthy that the title of the new feature could have easily been changed into any of the Dardennes’ former works–“La Promesse,” “L’Enfant,” or “The Son”—and still do justice to the specific narrative at hand.