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The Dardenne brothers (L'Enfant, Lorna's Silence) once again
demonstrate their mastery for crafting character studies around broken
souls trying to get by in France, with their newest film, The Kid With
A Bike. The film opens with young Cyril Catoul (Thomas Doret), trying
to break free from an orphanage to see his father, while everyone
around him is trying to explain that his father has left him there.
It's a heartbreaking opening, immediately giving us a taste of the
magnificent performance that Doret will continue to demonstrate over
the course of the film. Cyril is desperate to escape their clutches and
refuses to listen to their pleas for understanding. He's a rebellious
young boy, unyielding in his cause and so sure that there must be some
explanation; surely his father couldn't be that cruel. Of course the
audience knows the revelation he is most likely going to receive.
Soon he comes into the care of Samantha (the always great Cecile De France), a hairdresser in the town nearby who runs into him by chance, and this is where the film really starts to succeed. The relationship at the core of the film isn't with Cyril and his father (whom we do eventually meet), but instead with him and Samantha. Cyril spends his time pouting, rebelling and generally being your standard adolescent boy, while Samantha tries to become this mother never had. Cecile De France is an actress I'm always interested to watch, with her expressive face that she's put to great use in many films before this but never so well as she does here. Samantha's resilience towards Cyril's constant attempts to pull away make it clear that she must have come from a situation similar to his, and is fighting so fiercely to make sure he doesn't face the fate that she knows exists. In a town filled with troubled youths, Samantha fought her way out the other side and she wants to bring Cyril there with her. It's a very warming dynamic and the Dardennes really make you feel all of the highs and lows of it. This isn't your standard character study; you feel these characters like very few films can make you do.
One of the most sensational aspects of the picture is the performance anchoring it all from Thomas Doret. Watching Doret, I couldn't help but be reminded of the young Jean-Pierre Leaud in The 400 Blows. Cyril is a rebel in the purest form, broke down by the society he's been born into and constantly fighting back against the authority figures in his life. But unlike Leaud's Antoine Doinel, Cyril isn't looking for freedom here; he's looking for acceptance. Throughout the film Cyril is pulled in a multitude of directions, but the only one he wants to get pulled into is the arms of his father; and in the twisted harshness of life, that's the one direction that just pushes him away. Doret completely embodies this character, absent of any tick or fallacy that generally comes with a child actor. It's got to be the finest child performance put on screen in quite some time. The boy isn't some adorable little kid; he's a real person and sometimes he drives you insane, but you always end up rooting for him when it comes down to it. My heart sank in the moments with his father (played well by Dardennes regular Jeremie Renier), warmed in the few bright spots in his life and when he was in danger I almost drew blood from digging my nails into my palm due to the tension.
Along with the emotional journey that the Cyril/Samantha dynamic takes you on, the Dardennes also imbue the film with a dark fairy tale metaphor that I found added a great new layer to Cyril's story. Cyril spends the film wearing a variety of red tops, clearly representing our Riding Hood lost in the woods, and at a certain point he encounters our version of the Big Bad Wolf; a troubled youth who didn't have the luxury of a Samantha in his life. This Wolf is the counter to Samantha's mother figure and Cyril is a broken soul caught in a world where he could walk down the dark path of the drug dealers and thieves or into the light that Samantha tries to open up to him. It's a strikingly human story that keeps you on your toes and grasps your heart. I won't reveal the final path that Cyril ends up taking, but it kept me in tears for the final ten or fifteen minutes.
Greetings again from the darkness. When Guy (Jeremie Renier) states
that he can't take care of his son Cyril (Thomas Douret) right now, I
felt a rush of anger and disgust. Imagine if you were his 11 year old
son hearing those words. Young kids should be able to count on their
parents for emotional security above all else. There should be no fear
of abandonment ... those are issues no child should be forced to deal
with (barring a natural disaster).
The Belgium writer/director team of brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne have a history of taking on parenthood and childhood in a head-on manner. Cyril is dumped in an orphanage by his dad, and is convinced that he is just misplaced, not abandoned. So being the fiercely determined kid he is, he re-traces his steps from coffee shops to bars to their old apartment. Cyril is convinced his dad never would have sold his treasured bicycle, no matter how desperate for money he was.
Whatever confusion and hostility that you think Cyril might experience, once he confronts his dad, the filmmakers display it in the rawest possible form. Cyril is a symbol of need, hiding behind a wall of rebellion. A chance encounter with Samantha (Cecile de France) leads to weekend visitations and the start of an awkward quasi-family life for both of them. Cyril tests Samantha and all other authority figures in every possible manner, often to the breaking point.
As a parent, it's easy to spot the vulnerabilities that a child faces before they have the maturity to handle it. We see how easily Cyril falls in with the wrong crowd and how quickly things can get really bad. Luckily for Cyril, Samantha doesn't abandon him. She answers "I don't know" to his question of why she let him stay with her. Although, the filmmakers never let us in on her deepest thoughts, we suspect she was once not all so different than Cyril, and someone stepped up for her.
This film won the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes in 2011 and it's easy to see how. It shows how difficult and messy ordinary life can be, but how often things turn out OK, though rarely perfect. Film lovers will recognize Cecile de France from her many films, including the recent Hereafter and the excellent Mesrine.
I recently saw this at the 2012 Palm Springs International Film Festival. This was Belgium's official submission to the Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film and won the Grand Prix as the Jury Prize winner at the Cannes film Festival. Cyril Catoul (Thomas Doret) is living in a state run home and school for children after his single parent father Guy Catoul (Jérémie Renier) abandoned him. Cyril's father promised him that he wouldn't sell his beloved bike and when the father never returns to take him from the state care he sets out in search of his father and his bike. A kind single woman, Samantha, (Cécile De France) takes pity on him and tracks down the bicycle that his father had sold and buys it and returns it to Cyril. Samantha soon takes Cyril in to live with her part-time. Cyril is a very troubled young boy and is longing to belong and have a family. He has a temper and is a candidate for a troubled life. From writers/directors/producers the Dardenne brothers, this is a good story with fine acting. I'm sure for the role of Cyril, the directors instructed first time actor Doret, to act like a brat and be who he isn't. It worked well. De France is great as the strong and sympathetic Samantha. The story moves along well with a good score and nice editing. It's a little implausible at times and kind of far-fetched but it's a crowd pleaser and I would give it an 8.0 and recommend it.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
If "The Kid with a Bike" were an English language film, chances are it
would be structured so that the title character wouldn't find his
father until the end, at which point there would be some kind of
emotional climax and narrative resolution. But this French-speaking
drama is directed by Jean-Pierre Dardenne and his brother, Luc, who are
known for stark, naturalistic films devoid of sentiment. Through their
telling of "The Kid with a Bike," the title character finds his father
within the first third, at which point it's made abundantly clear that
the latter wants absolutely nothing to do with the former. The kid must
therefore navigate the rest of the film in search of an entirely
different emotional climax assuming that there is one to find. Even
if there is, it will not present itself in a moment of sweeping
The kid's name is Cyril (Thomas Doret), a troubled eleven-year-old boy in foster care. He refuses to believe that his father would simply abandon him, despite the fact that he has never called, visited, or even lived up to his promise of returning for him after only one month. In the opening scene, Cyril repeatedly dials the number to their old apartment with frantic determination. He gets the same answer: A few beeps, and an automated voice telling him the number has been disconnected. Blind to the reality of the situation, Cyril escapes and returns to the apartment. Sure enough, every room is empty. In fact, they have been empty for an entire month. Worse still, Cyril's beloved bicycle has gone missing. He was sure his father would have given it to him.
By pure chance, he runs into a hairdresser named Samantha (Cécile de France), who later returns the bike to Cyril. She tells him it was sold to her by someone who bought it from Cyril's father. Cyril dismisses the idea. The bike was obviously stolen. He goes on believing this until he sees a personal ad written by his father taped to the window of a mechanic's garage. Yes, he was looking to sell his son's bike. Despite his growing disillusionment, Cyril has found a place in the life of Samantha, who agrees to be his foster parent on weekends. The two begin a citywide search for his father, Guy (Jérémie Renier), who's eventually found at a restaurant working as a cook. Cyril is eager to pick up where they left off. Guy is anything but. He gives the usual excuses about money, time, and simply being unable. As if any reason would suffice. He tells his son, calmly but firmly, to never try and see him again.
Cyril's disillusionment has now devolved into total heartbreak. After successfully fighting off a teen who tried to steal his bike, he soon finds himself in the company of a thug named Wes, known locally as The Dealer (Egon Di Mateo). He takes Cyril under his wing. We get a brief look at Wes' difficult personal life a bedridden grandmother who needs constant care, an unseen grandfather who in all likelihood spends his time away from home at a bar although that doesn't make the attention he gives to Cyril any less disquieting. Our suspicions are eventually confirmed, although I will not reveal why, as it involves a sequence of events too intertwined with the film's final scenes. Let it suffice to say that Wes is indeed trouble, and that Samantha was absolutely correct in urging Cyril to stay away from him.
Cyril is a product of his own rotten luck, a wayward boy who has been conditioned to distrust adults or anyone in a position of authority. He does choose to be with Samantha, but only because she unreservedly returned him his bike; he remains unmindful of the love and support she's so clearly giving him, even after she chooses him over her boyfriend. Her reasons for taking him in are never given, a fact that's sure to divide audiences. I myself remain torn over it. The part of me that responds well to Americanized sentiment and concrete explanations wanted a psychological profile, a dip into the well from which her maternal instincts spring. The other part of me, the one that appreciates enigmatic characters and situations, understands that an explanation isn't necessary. The fact that she's drawn towards Cyril and is driven to help him should be enough.
In its own low key, unemotional way, the film sends a rather beautiful message: You can move forward with your life if you learn to let go of anger and resentment. The trick is to hear it without the aid of a cinematic filter. There will be no large orchestral swells, no slow motion shots of Cyril running into Samantha's arms, no tearful admissions of love. There's only the sense that a chapter has ended, and one need only to turn the page. There's also the feeling that a fresh start is indeed possible, sometimes (perhaps even especially) after a traumatic event that could easily have been avoided. If anyone tells you that "The Kid with a Bike" is a father/son story, smile politely and tactfully inform him or her that they either weren't paying attention or lied about having seen it.
-- Chris Pandolfi (www.atatheaternearyou.net)
"Not everyone can be an orphan." Andre Gide
A kid with only a bike and no mother or active father---now that's a setup for sentiment. Yet the Dardenne brothers have fashioned an unsentimental, realistic drama, The Kid with a Bike, about an 11 year old boy, Cyril (Thomas Doret), who is fortunately taken in by a guardian, town hairdresser Samantha (Cecile De France), but not without serious setbacks that are understandable given his unstable background.
The title evokes thoughts of the famous Italian neo-realist Bicycle Thief, in which a young boy is introduced to life's hard knocks through an imperfect father. In Kid, the father is a deadbeat deserter whose brief appearances are depressing because it's clear a reconnection with his son is not going to happen.
Cyril is running through most of the film, either by bike or foot, a motif signifying his desperate desire for a parent. However blood does not have to be in the loving equation as Samantha becomes a willing surrogate.
No surprise The Boy with the Bike won the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes (2011) and the directors several times before in multiple categories. The humanity rather than the technicality dominates the emotionality; the two principal actors, Doret and De France, are incomparably natural and convincing. Make no mistake, this is a film about a boy, whose character arc the directors fully present. Whether or not he ends up for good through all the turmoil is the pleasure of watching this soon-to-be classic.
You may think again about leaving your child with only his bicycle.
Cyril, a young boy of about 12, is abandoned by his deadbeat father in the care of some sort of group home. He obsessively tries to reunite with his father, and in the process, falls into the hands of a surrogate mother... and a rather shady surrogate father. The Dardennes aren't straying much from their established style, but there's no reason to. Again, we have a highly effective look at people in emotional crisis and in the grips of moral dilemmas. Throughout the film you're questioning your reactions to things (boy, that Cyril seems like an awful little monster at first) or asking "What would I do?" Again, the camera-work is immediate and unfettered by stylistic flourishes, putting you right inside the lives of these characters. Again, the performances are so natural they feel almost documentary. While I don't think Thomas Doret is as powerful a young actor as Emilie Dequenne in ROSETTA or other Dardenne leads, he does win you over after an unsympathetic start. The movie deals with several parallel themes, the most prominent being one of finding love and acceptance where you can, but it doesn't simply hammer on that one and leaves room for other avenues. I'm not sure yet if I would put this among the best of the Dardennes, but it made a strong first impression.
This film takes place in Europe (Belgium, apparently) so it has far less of the violence that would accompany the same story set in America. But otherwise the story is particularly painful to watch because the essential elements - a kid without a father, his self-hate and anger, the substitute father figures laying in wait - are directly relevant to the American context. In a lean, tough story, the film takes us through a broad tour of the issues and risks and even reasons for hope in these situations. Young Thomas Doret fiercely embodies the aching and the rage of a boy who wants a father at any price and is a near-force of nature in trying to obtain what should be his by right. Cécile De France's Samantha has numerous real-life counter-parts, credited by more than one survivor of these dilemmas, but not always successful in their roles as passionate rescuers. How this particular story turns out is not so important as the realization that all across the world children live in Cyril's situation; some make it, many don't.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
If one word can describe the theme of this beautiful cinema, then it is love. I think you can call it a love story. No, not a romantic one, but an obsession to have someone that accept and love you, isn't is universal? And of you are a kid that love comes normally from your parents. If it isn't there, what you're going to do? Well, Cyril knows one thing. He must have it. Even when he cannot find his father, the only person who suppose to give him unconditional love, he keeps searching. Even when his father does not want to see him, he keeps coming and begging for his love. And one time, in one second that he could not go anywhere because people chasing him, he thought he had to cling to something, someone, and fast. In that second that he had to decide who is to be clung to among all people in the room, he clinged to Samantha. And boy, what a cling. That is the first encounter between the boy and the woman who loves him. Unconditionally. Well, I expect a melodrama after this, but it is far from that. The plot and the acting prevent any king of melodrama and kitsch. Anyway, Cyril encounters several paths that would almost ruin his life, or even take his life. This is told convincingly, thanks to excellent performance of this young actor. The final scene touched me the most when Cyril seemingly to decide to choose life because of love.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The Dardenne brothers have their own style of film making. Just like
those other famous brothers, the Coens, their films are instantly
recognizable. They are always about people in some kind of trouble.
They are always filmed in a cinema vérité-style. They always seem to
sympathize with the underdogs in society. And they always focus on the
dramatic aspects, not on the plot or the cinematography.
'Le gamin au vélo' is no exception. This time, the story is about a young boy in search for his father, and the hairdresser who takes care of him. The seemingly simple events are filmed in a gripping style, full of intensity.
What really stands out in this film is the way the young boy, Cyril, is played by Thomas Doret. His obsessive determination to find his father is completely convincing. Cyril is not a sympathetic child. In fact, his stubborn and strange behaviour is sometimes so irritating that you want to slap him in the face.
In the very first scene of the film, the Dardennes show us that they are great filmmakers. We see a boy dialing a telephone number that is disconnected. A man tells him to stop, because it is useless, but he keeps on dialing the same number. It shows us the boy's obsession for his father. Cyril cannot accept the fact that his father has left him, and he clings to the number that was his only connection to him. The same thing goes for the bicycle (the 'vélo' from the title). His father gave it to him, so it has a special meaning. That's why Cyril cherishes the bike.
The first part of the film is full of extremely strong dramatic scenes. Take for instance the moment Samantha, the hairdresser, seems to break down in spite of her infinite patience with Cyril. After Cyril has left her house, although she has forbidden him to go out, she starts sobbing. But after a few seconds, she recollects herself, takes the phone and calls the orphanage. That such simple things have such great dramatic meaning, is the power of the Dardenne's film making. Another very intense moment is when Samantha breaks up with her boyfriend because of Cyril. The boyfriend tells her: it's him or me. And she answers: it's him.
The second half of the movie is less powerful. The events after Cyril has found his father are not as intense as the first scenes, but still make good cinema. The weak point is the ending. The story just seems to stop, without any final statement or conclusion.
Le gamin au vélo The Kid with a Bike CATCH IT (A) Le gamin au vélo is a heartwarming French movie from duo directors Jean-Pierre Dardenne & Luc Dardenne. The movie revolves around a12 year old kid abandoned by his father, giving to orphanage trying hard to first find his father and then dealing with his rejection. During this time he bonds an unusual friendship with his town's hairdresser, who offers to foster him during weekend. The Kid with a Bike deals with the desperation, depression and unfairness of the life. The movie brings out strong emotions out of its lead characters. They are trapped and miserable in front of life, whether it's the young abandoned kid, or insolvent father or a hairdresser who agrees to foster a ragging child in random act of kindness. Thomas Doret as Cyril delivered one of the remarkable performances ever by a child star. There is this rebelliousness, edginess, depression, frustration to his performance which we see rarely in child stars. I don't think anyone has words to describe his performance, it was totally remarkable. Cécile De France, the High Tension Alum for most of the world is great and shows the softer side to her relatively strong structure. The bonding between Thomas Doret and Cécile De France is something completely magnificent to watch. Jérémie Renier as insolvent father is good. On the whole, Le gamin au vélo is one of the most heartwarming and remarkable piece of writing and direction I have seen in recent years. It clearly shows that there is still humanity in the world and there are still people like Samantha who would do anything in random act of kindness. Highly recommended.
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