This NZFF '11 gem finally gets its much deserved full theatrical release.
The Kid with a Bike is a difficult watch – yet unexpectedly rewarding. Directed by the Dardenne Brothers (The Child), the film follows a 12-year-old boy as he deals with rejection and the temptation of living as a full-blown delinquent. In a nutshell, The Kid with a Bike is a coming-of-age tale, but labeling it so would be simplistic, as there is nothing simple with the choices that are being offered here. Clearly inspired by films from the French New Wave and Italian Neorealism, this is a powerful film that lingers and invites reflection.
Cyril (Thomas Doret) is a 12-year-old boy who was left by his father in a local orphanage with the intention to abandon him. Headstrong, he runs away from the orphanage, and in the process, inadvertently meets Samantha (Cecile de France). A woman with mysterious intentions, she ends up being his legal guardian with repercussions that change Cyril’s life. They develop a tumultuous relationship, with Cyril still desperate to reconnect with his father and Samantha desperate to fulfill both maternal and paternal roles for a rebellious child.
Much like Francois Truffaut’s The 400 Blows, The Kid with a Bike excellently focuses on a disenfranchised child desperate for some parental control. Cyril is a kid that is both hard to love and easy to relate to as the film is brilliant in balancing his personality: the film recognizes moments whereby Cyril can become unbearable, reintroducing his good-for-nothing father to get our empathy back. Doret is brilliantly cast and is acting beyond his years – there is sadness in his movement that can easily grab.
Sadly the film’s title doesn’t do it any favours. Sure, it’s an obvious allusion to de Sica’s The Bicycle Thieves (a film that celebrates the unconditional love between father and son) but for audiences who aren’t familiar with Italian Neorealism, The Kid with a Bike could easily be dismissed as generic film festival fodder. This film is not that – it is rich, challenging and an exercise in empathy. Cecile de France, looks fantastic – her visibly toned physique matches the emotional strength Samantha needs. We never quite understand the altruistic intentions of her character though. Certain clues are left and audiences are allowed to speculate.
The Dardenne Brothers clearly have an affinity towards children in their films. From The Child to The Son, they have mastered the idealism that children have that adults appreciate yet fail to emulate. The Kid with a Bike is a prime example of contemporary Neorealism, gathering techniques from auteurs with the same desire to present truth and humanity that can be elusive in a medium that conjure fantasy. The Kid with a Bike is a stellar film, and a challenging exercise in empathy.