Indie Roundup: ‘A Kid With a Bike’

Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne have won the top prize in Cannes twice — for “Rosetta” (1999) and “L’Enfant” (2005) — making them some of the most celebrated directors working today. Yet you’d be hard pressed to see their movies in this country; they tend to play for a week in New York and Los Angeles before disappearing. And that’s a shame. Their movies, usually set in the seedy underbelly of French-speaking Belgium, show an enviable economy — not a single shot is wasted — while being shot in a manner that makes you forget the movie is scripted. Like the semidocumentary feel of Daren Aronofsky’s “The Wrestler”? — that was cribbed from the Dardenne brothers. Their latest movie, “A Kid With a Bike,” is a gem of a film will be, hopefully, seen by more people in the States.

For movie mavens and film school grads, the movie’s title might recall Vittorio De Sica’s 1948 landmark movie “The Bicycle Thieves,” about a father and son looking for a bike. Dardenne brothers’ movie is about a boy with a bike looking for his dad.

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The film opens with Cyril (Thomas Doret), a ferociously energetic 11-year-old, making yet another phone call to his father, only to get a recording saying the number has been disconnected. A month earlier, the dad dropped off the kid at a foster home and then not only moved without a forwarding address, but also sold Cyril’s cherished bike. Unable to fathom the painful truth, the kid bolts from the home and sets out for their old apartment. On the run from social workers, he races into a doctor’s clinic and grabs a random stranger — a childless, bottle-blond hairdresser named Samantha (Cecile De France) — and clings to her with feral intensity. “You can hold on to me,” she tells him. “But not so tight.”

That improbable introduction begins an unlikely relationship. We never get a clear reason why Samantha so readily accepts him into her life — the Dardennes aren’t much for back story — but De France’s performance is so nuanced that we completely buy that she does. When she tracks down Cyril’s bike and buys it back, he brashly asks her to foster him. She agrees. And when she helps track down Cyril’s dad, and he proves to be a world-class loser — telling Samantha that he doesn’t want to see his son again because he stresses him out — she consoles him.

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Enter Wes (Egon Di Mateo), a low-rent teenaged tough with the sort of greasy charisma that lost 11-year-olds find cool. He has a car, the latest PlayStation games, and a refrigerator filled with soda and beer. With a predatory ruthlessness, he hits Cyril’s psychological weak spots, trying to inveigle him into a bone-headed robbery scheme that is doomed. As Cyril gets swept into Wes’s web of thuggish evil, we see that redemption would be impossible without Samantha’s unconditional love. “A Kid With a Bike” is a harrowing, heart-rending morality tale, simply told, that hits you with a surprisingly strong wallop.

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March 2012

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