Sometimes, a cinematic depiction of reality (or approximate reality) can be as magical as a CGI beast charging towards you, if not more so. The Kid With a Bike, the latest film from Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne, is as close to reality as we’re ever likely to get in 2012, with key scenes and performances radiating such naturalism that it takes the breath away.
The brothers specialise in such movies, and this naturalistic approach has earmarked them as favourites at the Cannes Film Festival. In the past, they’ve been awarded the Palm D’Or for Rosetta (1999) and The Child (2005), while The Kid With a Bike was itself awarded the Grand Prize of the Jury in 2011. On viewing the end result, it’s not hard to see why the movie has continued the brothers’ lucky streak, so sincere is it, and so honestly does it radiate emotion without ever seeming contrived or facile.
Extraordinarily assured newcomer Thomas Doret plays Cyril, a young boy in care who repeatedly evades his helpers in order to track down his absentee father. His latest attempt at escaping sees him come into contact with hairdresser Samantha (Cecile de France), who agrees to foster him on weekends. Samantha aids Cyril in the search for his father and eventually the two form a strong bond.
Although, there is a narrative of sorts, The Kid With a Bike isn’t strictly a plot driven movie, nor is it one driven by incident. This is a movie of character and observation, likely to bore many people silly, but likely to entrance just as many viewers bored of naff character ‘arcs’ foisted on them in poor dramas. Although the central characters do eventually come to some sort of realisation and new-fangled maturity, there’s a sense it arises naturally out of the drama.
What the film also does brilliantly is put us in young Cyril’s shoes, as he attempts to impose his own logic on adult situations beyond his understanding. This is beautifully expressed in the quietly heartbreaking scene when he finally does meet-up with his father, leading to an ultimatum that is as baffling to his naive outlook as it is tragically plausible to an adult’s.
The Dardennes’ skill with the actors deserves high praise: in their scenes together, Doret and de France barely look like they’re acting at all, a direct result of the film’s gentle, observational style and a script mercifully devoid of sermonizing. Although the movie resembles a classic rites of passage drama, it never labours the central boy’s journey in the manner of a Hollywood movie. The film defies the need to end with a trite statement, instead drawing emotional warmth from the Dardennes’ acutely observed direction.