Saturday, April 14, 2012

The Kid With A Bike (Wanous)


Belgian film delivers emotional roller coaster

"The Kid With A Bike," Rated PG-13, 87 min., opens April 13 at the Tropic Cinema; French, fully subtitled
Nominated for the Palme d'Or and winner of the Grand Prize of the Jury at Cannes last year, "The Kid With A Bike" co-writers/directors Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne (the Dardenne brothers) have crafted a story that is heavy with the prospect of serious psychological damage to the characters, to the viewer, or maybe both. But it somehow also manages to be an upbeat film, showing the resilience of the human spirit in the face of crushing disappointment.

Showing guilt, innocence, love, hate, cunning and the ease with which moral decisions can go either way, "The Kid With A Bike" is an uneasy film that takes the viewer on an emotional roller coaster ride.
Cyril is an eleven-year-old boy who has been dumped at a school/orphanage by his father, who no longer wants the responsibility of raising a child alone. We never find out what happened to the mother. Justifiably confused and angry, Cyril goes on a desperate search for his father and lashes out at anyone who tries to stop him. The dad has changed his phone number, moved out of his apartment with no forwarding address and, maybe worst of all, has sold Cyril's beloved bicycle.

We realize that his father does not want him, but Cyril stubbornly refuses to believe that he has been abandoned. His search leads him into unexpected territory, with equally unforeseen consequences and along the way Cyril makes both enemies and friends, some of whom figure prominently later in the film.
The outcome of Cyril's quest is quietly devastating, but the Belgian directors treat it as just another moment in life.

And that is the beauty of a Dardenne brothers film: the story on the screen is presented matter-of-factly and momentous events are portrayed as they are in real life, with no dramatic music or cheering crowds - they just happen. The brothers use movie effects sparingly to highlight their films, and it is up to the viewer to follow the narrative and decide what is important.

Thomas Doret plays the lead with a brooding but optimistic approach and his character convincingly earns the apt nickname "Pitbull." Though he speaks sparingly throughout the film, Doret manages to convey the complex thoughts and emotions of an eleven-year-old boy with great effect.

The one bright side in young Cyril's life is a woman whose life he literally crashes into. Played by C├ęcile De France, last seen in Clint Eastwood's "Hereafter" (2010), Samantha owns a hair salon and inexplicably agrees to take Cyril on weekends. We are never shown what her motivation might be for agreeing to care for this strange boy, who puts her through hell. And, yet she cares more for him than her boyfriend. It is one of the few weak points of the film.

The cinematographer does a good job of following Cyril all over town on his recovered bicycle and the viewer may feel winded from all the pedaling. But the lighting is a little inconsistent, going from really dark to really bright without allowing time for our eyes to fully adjust.

The subtitles were sometimes a little difficult to read due to the lighting issues. The pat ending is a bit disappointing because the boy's quick transition from troublemaker to caring child seems contrived. I would almost bet that scenes detailing that evolution, for some reason, were left on the cutting room floor.
Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne have explored working-class society in their previous works, including "Rosetta" (1999) and "The Child" (2005), and with each successive film, they show us their improving skills as artists and treat us to a sharper and clearer vision of life.

They avoid over-romanticizing their characters and their movies, even when dealing with depressing themes and always leave the viewer with a glimmer of hope and optimism. "The Kid with a Bike" follows the same successful pattern.

I recommend this film from the Dardenne brothers and I'm looking forward to their next one.  


No comments: