The Kid with a Bike

Thomas Doret and Cecile de France in "The Kid with a Bike."

“The Kid with a Bike,” the new movie from Belgian filmmakers, and brothers, Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne is simple and powerful.  It is efficiently made and rich in character.  The story never stops moving from its first frame to its last.  The film’s pacing matches that of its main character, eleven-year-old Cyril (newcomer Thomas Doret) who is in almost constant motion throughout.  The story never slows to provide exposition.  “The Kid with a Bike” starts in the middle of a scene and moves along from there, filling us in as it sees fit.  At the same time “The Kid with a Bike” goes in unexpected directions not necessarily providing easy resolutions to its protagonist’s situation, or predictable consequences for the actions that he undertakes.

“The Kid with a Bike” has a main character who has a strong dramatic need, something which any good narrative film must have.  In other words what does the main character want and what obstacles must he over come in order to achieve his goal?  It sounds surprisingly simple but not many filmmakers get it right.  In “The Kid with a Bike” the Dardenne Brothers (“L’enfant,” “Rosetta”) start with a “bang.”  From the moment the film begins Cyril desperately wants to find his father.  He keeps dialing his father’s telephone number only to hear the same recorded announcement, over and over, that the phone has been disconnected.  Cyril is in denial, as any eleven-year-old in such a situation would be.

We learn that Cyril lives at a home for boys and that he strongly  needs to find not just his father, but also his bicycle.  Both father and bike are symbols for the father figure which Cyril will seek throughout the story.  Cyril reasons that his father would not have sold off his bike and that finding one will bring him to the other.

Doret brings to Cyril a wordless expression that speaks volumes.  He is tough yet vulnerable.  Casting a character that young can be quite difficult.  The Dardenne brothers talked about casting this critical leading role.  Jean-Pierre explained that the casting process involved “The usual way when you’re looking for actors his age: we put an ad in the papers then held a casting of about a hundred kids.  Thomas came on the first day.  He was the fifth one we saw and it clicked right away.”  Luc added: “Right from the start we were struck by the expression in his eyes, his stubborn air, his look of concentration.”

The film’s cast turns in performances for which it would be a disservice to describe using typical superlatives: “great,” wonderful,” etc.  Each character in “The Kid with a Bike” comes across as authentic.  If I had to pick one word to describe the performances it would be “restrained.”  No one in this film is busy giving a “performance.”  Aside from Cyril the film’s most intriguing and mysterious character is Samantha (Cecile de France).  Samantha gives Cyril unconditional support.  We never learn her motivations and it is not important.

On the casting of de France, a well known French actress, Luc explained that, “Nothing was programmed.  We never write with a specific actor in mind.  As soon as we finished the screenplay we started to think about actresses and about Cecile first.  With her we knew we’d avoid all psychology…that her body and her face were enough.  We gave her the screenplay and she accepted right away.  She asked a few questions regarding the motivations of her character.  We told her Samantha was there, end of story.  She trusted us.”  Samantha simply does what she does.  Having her explain herself, possibly elaborating on her background and how this impacts her character, would be to require the film to dot each “I” and cross each “T,” something that “The Kid with a Bike” is not about.

“The Kid with a Bike” opens locally on Friday March 16 at IFC Center, 323 Sixth Avenue and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas, 1886 Broadway.

“The Kid with a Bike,” directors Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, 2011,

IFC Films, 87 minutes


About unpaidfilmcritic

Up until 2009 Seth Shire spent nearly two decades in the New York film industry as a post production supervisor of feature films. Highlights include working on the films of Martin Scorsese, James Toback and Spike Lee. Since leaving the film industry Seth has expanded into new and varied areas where he has found a great deal of satisfaction. Seth currently teaches in the Sociology Department of CUNY Queens College. His courses include "Mass Media and Popular Culture," "Introduction to Sociology," and "Sociology of Cinema" where he is a very popular teacher. Seth is also the film critic for "Town & Village," a Manhattan weekly newspaper, a position he has held for the past six years. Seth gives back to his community through volunteer teaching at Manhattan's "The Caring Community," a center for senior citizens, where he teaches a very popular course on documentaries called "The Golden Age of the Documentary. In the fall of 2010 Seth taught "Critical Reading and Writing" at Parsons School of Design. He has also taught "Cinema Studies" at the New York Film Academy. Seth lives in Stuyvesant Town, in Manhattan.

Posted on March 15, 2012, in New and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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