The Kid With a Bike
It’s about an 11-year-old at a state-run boys’ home—a violence-prone ball of energy—who learns his father hasn’t merely dropped him off but abandoned him and sold his precious bike besides. He runs away, sneaks into his old apartment building for signs of any good news, gets chased into a doctor’s office, where he smacks into a woman in the waiting room, and clutches her for dear life, a woman who eventually comes to adopt him, almost as an act of fate, if not faith. There’s Christian iconography in this image—the Dardennes have called it “Pieta in reverse”—and while the film isn’t overtly religious, it is about the need for kindness, and its mystery, in a world cluttered with weakness and mendacity. The films of Bresson and DeSica are strong influences (some have dubbed the Dardennes’ style “Flemish realism”), but the brothers have a lighter touch and a fiercer flair.
In one of the Blu-ray’s extra features, they describe their long rehearsals with the actors before the shooting begins, and the payoff is obvious. Thomas Doret, who makes his film debut as the kid, is utterly convincing in his portraits of anger, glee, despair, confusion, and innocence: It’s as astonishing as any child-actor’s performance I’ve seen. Cécile de France, a movie star in Europe, is no less credible as the ordinary (if angelic) hairdresser who comes to the boy’s rescue for reasons not quite clear, perhaps even to herself. (One of the film’s many strengths is that it offers no pat motivations.)
The Dardennes also have a compelling visual sense: a documentary feel in the handheld jitteriness and the drabness of the village, but the colors scream pastel; they remind you that we’re seeing this world through the sensations of a child. And the Criterion Blu-ray, while hardly eye candy, gets this dissonant vision just right.
Studio: Criterion Collection, 2011
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audio Format: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Length: 87 mins.
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Directors: Jean-Pierre, Luc Dardenne
Starring: Thomas Doret, Cécile de France, Jérémie Renier