Movie Review - The Kid With a Bike

Last year, my favorite film, the film I deemed the best of 2011, was The Tree of Life, a movie that involved a young boy at odds with his father and Terrence Malick using that to comment on the way of the world and how we as beings should handle things in the world as well as whether or not there is room in the world for grace. Added to that were microcosmic and macrocosmic, spiritual and scientific explorations. The Kid With a Bike doesn't have those grandiose explorations, but, through a simple story told simply, this film gets at that same core. It's a different feeling all together and it's not as complex but for what it accomplishes, it is by far one of the best movies of 2012.

The kid in The Kid With a Bike is Cyril Catoul, a tough but skinny 12 or 13-year-old with blonde hair and a red shirt, played by Thomas Doret in his debut performance. Cyril is in foster care. He was in the care of his father, Guy Catoul, played by Jérémie Renier (Brotherhood of the Wolf and L'Enfant). Yet, his father put Cyril into a group home and took off. He also took from the boy his most prized possession, a black bicycle. Cyril runs away from school and he runs away from foster care in order to find his father and find his bicycle, but don't worry this doesn't devolve into Pee-Wee's Big Adventue (1985).

To help him, Cyril latches onto a hairdresser named Samantha, played by Cécile de France (L'Auberge Espagnole and Hereafter). She happens into the same building that Guy had his apartment. While some might have been terrified, she feels something, perhaps from the moment he latches onto her. She feels possibly his loneliness and desperation. Samantha has a good job. She has a good boyfriend, Gilles, but she doesn't seem firmly attached to him. In her perhaps lies some loneliness and desperation too because she almost without question jumps into this boy's life.

Cyril does find his father but it's not the reunion he expected. He is put at odds with his dad and quickly establishes a dynamic that will repeat itself. Cyril seeks out those who are not good for him and pulls away from those who are. It's almost as if he doesn't recognize good from bad. He's just driven by basic needs. He's very much like the nickname he's labeled, "pitbull." He's often living in the current moment like a dog, not thinking about broader issues, which is actually normal for a child.

This is in contrast to other prepubescent boys that we've seen recently on screen. Aside from the boy in The Tree of Life, last year saw young characters around Cyril's age not act their own age for the most part. The young characters acted like adults or sometimes you could feel the adult filmmakers as puppeteers pulling the young characters' strings. Some examples from last year include Hanna, Super 8 and Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close.

Cyril isn't like those young characters in part because Cyril doesn't come from the same socioeconomic background as most of them. He comes from a poorer background and less educated background. Even child characters with that background have still been written as adults and often movies that do that work. It can be cute and clever, but it can also lack authenticity.

Yet, the one thing you could never accuse The Kid With a Bike of lacking is authenticity. The other thing you could never accuse this French film of lacking is good and punchy dramatic moments that are either heartbreaking or scary because there's such reality here that you're not sure where it's going to go.

Filmmaking brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne direct these moments to great effect. From Cyril being scolded for running the faucet to Wes, an older neighborhood kid and possible thug, giving Cyril a personal eye-cleaning, the Dardenne brothers continually hit us with these moments that pull us in closer and closer.

Five Stars out of Five.
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, violence, brief language and smoking.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 27 mins.

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