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Parenting: No License Necessary
David Ferguson8 April 2012
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.
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The Dardennes score again!
Rockwell_Cronenberg17 September 2011
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.
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A future classic
jdesando21 April 2012
"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.
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Letting Go of Anger
Chris_Pandolfi16 March 2012
Warning: 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 melodrama.

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 (
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The Miracle Worker
johno-2124 January 2012
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.
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Love & Affection breaking the (bi)cycle of Violence & Despair
polar2431 March 2012
A beautiful film. One that pulls you in by the honest and genuine storytelling told in the Dardenne brothers' trademark naturalistic and guileless tone that is refreshing and sorely missed in today's too often rambunctious style of movies.

The story is simple and organic, the kid initially breaking out of foster care to find his father, and his bike both of which give him some identity and purpose in the world. He befriends several characters along the way (and in the Dardennes films, the characters are few, but all play vital roles) including the benevolent Samantha (whom I thought was very sweet but perhaps too pretty - and talented - to play a working- class hairdresser). Some characters are good (Samantha), some not so (Wes) and some have their own agendas to make a living.

In this way, the film is not unlike (and I quote the Dardennes) a fairytale - the boy (hero) on quest in the wide world which various characters and dangers lurking, yet set in this ultra realistic (read social-realist) setting.

The style of film-making here is pure and simple in that social-realist style, simply presenting characters who live on the fringe of society; who live in poor social economic conditions or don't have the opportunity of good schooling or the genuine love of a mother or father. As a result it is perhaps a little easier to understand why Cyril acts the way he does, rebelling against society, trying to find his place in the world. As you watch perhaps keep in mind what you might do to make ends meet.

The kid is astounding in a first-time performance, he conveys so much frustration, anger, pathos, regret with just glances and looks, most of the screen time without dialogue. Just watch the sequences when he is cycling on his bike, utterly free, chasing (or escaping) his life as the master of his own destiny.

This is a very simple & heartfelt tale, it tells the story as it is with no artifice, shot in the gorgeous dappled sunlight of a Belgian summer. It is not as hard-hitting and gritty as other of the Dardennes' films, such as emotional sledgehammers like Rosetta, Le Fils & L'Infant, but, it is still very good.
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The Kid With a Bike
Martin Teller6 January 2012
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.
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Remarkable movie dealing desperation, depression and unfairness of the life.
Saad Khan9 July 2012
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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100 ways to get messed up in life and yes, love is the answer
Lin Patty12 October 2011
Warning: 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.
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The Dardennes show us that they are great film makers
Ruben Mooijman21 May 2011
Warning: 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.
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A Belgian take on a too-universal story
Jim Chevallier28 January 2012
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.
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the kid in red
thegodfathersaga12 January 2012
without any introductions, the film gets down to the story. a kid on the phone is all but accepting to hear that the number he dialed is out of service. a precisely fluid social humanist film about a 11 year old kid and his relentless quests to go all the way to, against everybody's wishes, find a parent that wants nothing to do with him. basing his stance on the argument that his father would never leave without leaving him his bike.

once retrieved, the bike serves as the catalyst that allows the kid to advance, more in a figurative sense; we see him fight and bite for it. the last relic of a family life to him.

the kid in red is a lot of things: determined with rage and astounding obstinacy, always on the move, has nothing to lose so he goes to the limits. at one point, he nervously plays with a faucet as to not lose face in front of such injustice. but in his misfortune, Samantha, an adult portraying a kind stranger and genuine goodness, generosity and warmth, takes care of him. being emotionally distant, the kid rejects her at first and goes on exploring until he finally finds himself in his most despairing moment.. the kid remains a very interesting character to me, he is easy to deceive, capable of violence, but only because he is affectionate at heart and more honest than the people he deals with. which resonates with me as the film is able to kindle bits of memories of the audience.
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Good performances in an uneven story
Daniel Marrin11 April 2012
Warning: Spoilers
I went to see the Kid with a Bike knowing just the basic story, and that it was a film by the famous Dardenne brothers. I haven't seen any of their other work, like La Promesse or L'Infant, but I was hoping to get an idea of their style from this film. The film's narrative starts out very strong, almost relentless: 10-year-old Cyril Catoul has been abandoned by his dad, and he wants him back.

Cyril will do anything to find his dad, running away from his state-run orphanage, lie, fight, anything, despite mounting evidence that his father wants nothing to do with him. He meets Samantha, a hairdresser who agrees to take him in on weekends while he searches for his dad.

The directors do a good job of showing Cyril's disintegration as he realizes his dad wants no part of him, but this all happens within the first half of the film. I found the latter half where Cyril is seduced into a local gang and then commits a crime to be less engaging, and the ending, though hopeful, seems a bit off. Also, I wish the film had spent more time on why Samantha wants so badly to help Cyril. There's very little background given on her character. All throughout though,

Thomas Doret does excellent work as Cyril, but I'd say this is definitely more of a rental, not worth the price of theater admission unless you're a real Dardenne aficionado.
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Have the Dardennes fallen off their bike?
Belgian directing duo Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne have built their formidable reputation on stark depictions of modern life and the muddy morals of those living on the fringes of society. The brothers' body of work has an unmatched consistency, both in the quality of their output and in the thematic and geographic areas they dwell upon.

Invariably set in their hometown Seraing, their films are post-industrial dramas about the outside forces which mould us, and the choices we make in spite of them, which combine to forge our destiny. Or at least, that's about as much as one can summate from the frayed and fiercely naturalistic work they produce.

Their career-long commitment to social realism would seem to sit somewhat uneasily with their latest offering, The Kid with a Bike, winner of the 2011 Grand Jury Prize at Cannes, which the Dardennes have described as their attempt at a fairytale. Cyril (Thomas Doret) takes the role of the lowly, wronged protagonist, trapped in a situation not of his choosing. Left to rot in a children's home by his self-interested father (Jérémie Renier), Cyril is restless, energetic and prone to violent outbursts borne of an unrequited desire for acceptance and belonging. Unable to accept his father's rejection, he constantly ditches school in search of him, but along the way comes across his fairy godmother, Samantha (Cécile de France), who takes an inexplicable shine to the stern-faced 11-year-old.

He begins to stay with Samantha on the weekends, but all is still not well for Cyril. His yearning need to belong leads him to fall in with local gang leader Wes (Egon Di Mateo), who fills the father-shaped hole in his life. Torn between Samantha, Wes and his own father, who he still longs to please, Cyril has to decide who really has his best interests at heart.

This fairytale's 'happy ending' is somewhat bittersweet, but The Kid with a Bike still takes the Dardennes into far more fluffy territory. While it may have the pared down aesthetics that are characteristic of their work, this film is discernibly less grey, both aesthetically and narratively. For one thing, it is shot entirely in the summer, with a wash of bright, breezy colours replacing the gravelly hues of The Son or Rosetta, and the inclusion of music, albeit a repeated few measures from Beethoven's Fifth Piano Concerto, give proceedings a soft, pleasing flow that is particularly alien to their austere oeuvre.

The compulsion to lighten things up and tell a story in which everything more-or-less works out in the end is certainly an admirable change of tack for the Belgian filmmakers, but there is an unavoidable lack of depth here. The plot trudges along rather predictably and the characters are surprisingly one-dimensional. As ever the Dardennes eschew needless back-story to maintain the illusion of naturalism, but in this case it has the effect of making their actions rather inexplicable. They each seem to be merely going through the motions which the fairytale form requires of them: the callous father dispels the boy, the swaggering street-kid leads him astray and the angelic fairy godmother arrives just in time to deliver him from evil. After a while, the fairytale form begins to feel like little more than a justification for the formulaic and uninspiring way in which the narrative unfolds.

Doret's performance of Cyril strikes the perfect balance between diffidence and angst, and de France is warm and convincing. But each character nevertheless feels superficial. The Dardennian prolonged, silent takes, which usually draw us to ponder the hidden thoughts of those on screen, is only tedious and annoying here. If anything, these moments tend to confront us with the sorrowful absence of the sort of subtle dynamism and intensity that the Dardennes are so adept at weaving into their scenes.

In its attempt to reconcile naturalist portraiture and fairytale storytelling, The Kid with a Bike ends up cleansing either form of its usual pleasures. The result is a predictable and shallow affair, that leaves one longing for the Dardennes' former magic.
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The limits of kindness? Perhaps none. A limited but very touching film.
secondtake11 December 2013
The Kid with a Bike (2011)

A troubled boy finds an informal foster mom who tries her best to keep in line. That's the story and in way that's the whole depth of the story. The details—his rebellion, his responding to love, his being suckered by a drug dealer—are expected and interesting and beautifully told. The story has a slightly polished realism to separate it from its forebear, the great classic "The Bicycle Thief," and there might be a slight gap in motivations to explain, but in general you get sucked into this situation and the awkward relationship between the two. It is a tale appreciated in its siimple telling.

I had a foster child for a couple of years at an age close to this boy's, and there is a lot here that makes vivid sense. The woman, perhaps too lovely for normal realism (played by Cecile De France), is nevertheless sincere and quite smart in her mothering skills. She gets the boy to live with her almost by chance, and follows that chance, and learns to give him some rope and to also reign him in by example and through compassion.

But even this isn't enough. That's one of the terrifying truths of being a foster parent (or any parent)—you can only do your best. Some of the result is a product of luck, or personality, or some course of outside events that you don't predict (even if later you can say you saw them coming). All of this is included here, well done, with a kind of filmic modesty.

The one bit of high drama comes down to the child pushing his limits when he gets into a criminal plan, and the results of that, which leads to a bit of small time revenge that goes wrong. The boy is now beyond his own limits and is literally stunned. By the last scene, you ought to be heartbroken but also really hopeful. The message finally is that kids are really resilient, and you have to keep opening the right doors for them and let them make good choices.

This film lets us do that.
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One of the best movies in 2011
rightwingisevil5 October 2011
what a great movie! this is also a living proof that how great the french people could make an ordinary story become a profound masterpiece. this is a movie with almost all good ingredients put together in such seamless texture: great screenplay, great cast, great actors, great director.... what an emotional ride, so profound and so engaging. now i know why France would have so many great writers and artists. this a near perfect motion picture. the kid, his biologic irresponsible father, a loving and care hair dresser, a cunning drug dealer, the french social workers, the victimized father and son later both turned out to be not as honest and sincere as the kid. if there's any award that is specialized just for an underage young actor, the kid who played the kid in this movie should get it.
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This film is overrated.
thevisitor96729 October 2011
Warning: Spoilers
First of all, there is no way THE KID WITH A BIKE is in the same league with THE 400 BLOWS. The later is a masterpiece; the former is not. I don't know where to begin with the problems I had with THE KID WITH A BIKE. Let's just say I found it slow, deliberate and boring. Although the acting was good; the writing and directing were lousy. I think my major problem with the film was lack of character development. Who exactly was the father? And why was his son so obsessed with him especially since he: (1) abandoned him, (2) sold his bike, and (3) told him that he never wanted to see him again. They didn't seem to have a loving relationship so I have no idea where this little boy's obsession came from. Then there was the little boy. (I don't remember his name because the movie was so boring.) Why was he so obsessed with the father? Especially since the father doesn't seem to give him the time of day. Throughout the whole movie, almost everything the little boy does is for his father. You can see how boring this can be. I mean, there really wasn't any conflict or anything. Just a little boy, who doesn't talk all that much, trying to please a father who doesn't give a darn about him. BORING! Finally, there's his foster mother. Why did she care so much for a little boy who treated her (and her very smart boyfriend) like crap. This was never explained either. So I hope you can see why I found this movie so boring. All 3 of the main characters were static. There was no development or change to any of their characters. And what was the movie really about--a little boy's obsession with a father who can care less about him? I can see why the father could care less about him--he seemed a little weird. I just couldn't understand what the foster mother saw in him.
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Lifeboats and lost causes
tieman6426 October 2013
Warning: Spoilers
Directed by Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne, "The Kid With a Bike" stars Thomas Doret as Cyril, a sullen child who has been abandoned by his parents. After repeatedly running away from his orphanage, Cyril is taken in by Samantha (Cecile De France), an angelic woman in possession of tremendous grace, patience and love.

Unlike other films by the Dardenne brothers, "Bike" eschews social realism for austere, almost Bressonian minimalism. "It's like a fairytale", the brothers would say in interviews, before describing Samantha as a "fairy godmother" who "sweeps down and saves the precious child". This fairytale quality, coupled to the film's almost sacred minimalism, lends "Bike" a unique tone. Its content may evoke neo-realist classics ("The Bicycle Thief", "The 400 Blows" etc), but formally the Dardenne's film resembles Bresson's "Mouchette" and "Au Hasard Balthazar". This stylistic shift isn't surprising; neo-realism has itself always had a spiritual quality, sanctifying the poor and the downtrodden.

The film's second half watches as Cyril falls in with a group of criminals. The Dardenne's then cleverly dodge clichés, until the film climaxes with Cyril rising above his social circumstances to become, like Samantha, something graceful and almost angelic. This aspect of the film has been criticised by many; surely Cyril is on track to becoming a juvenile delinquent, small time criminal or even sociopathic adult. Surely people like Samantha do not exist in real life. Surely most marginalised kids are doomed. Surely the film smooths over and romanticises Samatha's relationship with Cyril, portraying bonds that in real life take ages to forge.

This is all somewhat true, but "Bike" is also almost steadfast in its desire to reverse the stance of many other Dardenne films. Cyril's father here, for example, is the young father seen in the Dardennes' "L'Enfant", a film about an irresponsible couple who fall into a life of crime, abandoning their newborn kid along the way. Cyril's red bicycle also recalls the red jacket of the Dardenne's "Rosetta", in which a young woman struggles with poverty and a dysfunctional family. There are countless other allusions to other Dardenne films, but the point is, Cyril is an anomaly, and the film is perhaps interested in asking why this is so.

If "Bike's" first three acts, slow and silent, test its audience's patience, its fourth develops into something at times sublime. Here Cyril, who has spent the film looking for love and validation, recognises Samantha's importance in his life. Male impulsiveness, egoism and aggression then becomes something softer, Cyril, almost Christ-like, allowing himself to be tortured and beaten and then picking himself and walking away. He harbour's no ill-will, no blame, and seems to have become an entirely different person.

Whilst most Dardenne flicks take place in grim, shadowy locales, "Bike" is all sunshine, whites and bright colours. The film's symbolism is mostly simple, with a red bike, constantly moving and always being stolen, epitomizing Cyril's restlessness, rootlessness and insecurities. Samanatha herself works in a beauty salon, the woman's life dedicated to making everything she touches "more beautiful". "The Kid With a Bike" would win the Grand Prix at the 2011 Cannes film festival.

7.9/10 – Worth one viewing.
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Take a bow Dardenne Bros.
Shib Shankar Sikder6 June 2013
Warning: Spoilers
A perfect art-house film, loved it to the full. The directors have explored the psychology of a disturbed and rebellious child with ultimate care and love, with so much affection as Samantha had for him. But nowhere they have stooped to cheap sentimentalism. The ultimate realism throughout the film has made it a masterpiece. We have seen the murder of innocence by human indifference and cruelty. But above all what wins is hope. Unconditional kindness of love can heal all wounds of this cruel world. That is the ultimate grace of human existence. Many people will say that it lacks a solid plot. But does this kind of artistic work really need much story??? It says best as it says in fewest words. I loved the last scene where the boy turns and goes away on his bike, he has seen so much of the extremes of man. The ending could not be any better.
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slice of life
AMSharpless29 January 2013
Warning: Spoilers
"The Kid With a Bike" brings the story of 11 yr. old Cyril who lives in a youth center. Cyril cannot accept that his father seemingly has abandoned him, and in the first part of the movie we see Cyril trying to run away to find out where his dad is. It becomes clear that the dad indeed is no longer wanting to be involved in Cyril's life. By happenstance, Cyril meets Samantha, a hairdresser who agrees to become a foster parent just on the weekends. Cyril also befriends Wes, a no-good older kid who talks Cyril into robbing a newspaper carrier. I don't want to spoil the plot any further, you'll just have to see how it all plays out. But suffice to say that there were a number of scenes during which the theatre audience loudly gasped and moaned.

This movie is another outstanding "slice of life" as brought by the bothers Dardenne. No, there are no major "action" scenes or special effects. Just observing ordinary people in not always ordinary situations. Special mention must go to the young Belgian actor Thomas Doret, who is simply outstanding as Cyril, and also to Cecile de France (who, despite her last name, is also Belgian), in the role of Samantha. Incidentally, the movie was filmed in the Walloon city of Seraing (near Liege), where the brothers Dardenne hail from. "Le Gamin au Velo" made a major splash at the 2011 Cannes film festival, where it won the "Grand PRix". I can't help but notice that this is yet another strong movie from Belgium, on the heels of the Oscar-nominated "Bullhead". If you are in the mood for a good foreign movie, I readily recommend "Le Gamin au Velo".
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A simple, well-acted, poignant story
Greg8 April 2012
Warning: Spoilers
The story is quite simple: a 12-year-old boy abandoned by his father and the kindly woman who randomly meets him and becomes part of his life. The film is very, very good at exploring all of the sheer emotion involved in the above. You can feel the boy's unspeakable pain as he leaves no stone unturned to reconnect with his father, just to be rejected. You can see the motivations behind his horrible behavior and his despair. You see the whole spectrum here and no one is exactly as he seems. The father is a dead-beat who even briefly considers taking the stolen money from his kid. The drug dealer guy is horrible but also has a very unhappy life living with his grandparent. We see that Cyril's victims of his crime are far from perfect and even malicious. And then we have Samantha who selflessly upends her life and her relationship for this child. But instead of it being this happy-end story about the new family, we see that nothing is magical or perfect. We see a simple scene of Samantha and Cyril having a bike ride. Later he is almost killed by his own victim. The film ends with Cyril riding home broken, perhaps with a concussion. But he has matured to know that he should not fight back.

This is definitely one of those "so you think you have problems" type of films. It is a reminder to us all that sometimes we have little control over the tragic turns in life and we have to take the goodness and support where we can get it. No happy end, just a sense that things are the best they could be.

Great acting by the young actor and Cecile de France.
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A story of betrayal
insomnia24 August 2011
Warning: Spoilers
The latest film from The Dardenne Brothers, "The Kid With A Bike" is once again about lower class life in Belgium, this time focusing on the story of Cyril, an eleven-year-old boy living in a state-run facility after being abandoned by his father. Thomas Doret, who plays Cyril, gives a performance that's distressingly believable. Any parent, who has taken on the onerous task of raising a child single-handedly, will no doubt empathise with the anguish Cyril is going through. Mind you, sometimes Cyril's self-destructive behaviour is enough to try the patience of a saint. The film opens with Cyril trying to call his father on the phone dialing and re-dialing his number, while one of the members of staff tries to wrestle the phone away from Cyril, yelling at him to hang up, as the phone has been disconnected. Tiring of Cyril's tantrums, two of the staff members finally take Cyril around to the apartment where he and his father used to live to prove to Cyril once and for all that his father doesn't live there anymore. Cyril ignores them and keeps ringing the doorbell, but nobody comes to the door. Angry and upset, Cyril manages to elude both men and flees the building, determined to locate his father. When Cyril meets Samantha a childless hairdresser she surprises herself and Cyril by offering to take Cyril into weekly foster care. This doesn't sit too well with Samantha's boyfriend, who suspects, justifiably so, that Cyril poses a threat to his role as the male of the household. When Cyril sees a kid riding what he believes to be is his bike, he immediately gives chase. The kid riding the bike swears he bought from of a man. Cyril doesn't believe him. What father would sell the very bike he had given his son as a present? Samantha agrees to buy the bike back for Cyril. With his bike back, Cyril is free to roam the streets looking for his father. Instead, Samantha offers to drive Cyril around to help locate his father. When she stops for fuel, Cyril happens to notice an advertisement posted in a shop window, offering a car for sale and below that, a push bike; Cyril's push bike. Cyril is devastated. Visibly upset and feeling betrayed Cyril becomes sullen and un-communicative. Samantha, unsure of just how to comfort an eleven-year-old boy trying to grapple with the fact that his father, the one person who he ought to be able to trust the most, has rejected him, holds her tongue and concentrates on driving. When Cyril and Samantha finally do locate his father working in a restaurant, Samantha waits outside while Cyril confronts his father about why he deserted him and put him in the care of a Children's Home. His hapless and immature father is clearly uncomfortable as Cyril follows him around the kitchen, demanding to know why he can't be part of his father's life anymore. His father manages to fob Cyril off, but Cyril won't take no for an answer, and returns later to plead once more for his father to take him back. When Cyril happens to see a youth brazenly steal his bike, Cyril tries to snatch it back, but the youth evades him and proceeds to taunt Cyril by letting Cyril catch up then cycling away at the last moment. The youth is part of a gang led by a local petty criminal named Wes, who watches Cyril get the better of the youth who stole his bike in a fight. Wes instantly recognises in Cyril, a younger version of himself – tough and fearless. Offered a way of making easy money by committing a robbery, Cyril accepts. The older boy instructs Cyril on what to do. Things though, don't go according to plan. Cyril is recognised by the son of the owner. When Wes pulls up in his car and sees what's happened, he refuses to take the stolen money and demands that Cyril not tell anybody that he was involved, before accelerating away. Cyril panics. Next thing, Cyril finds himself outside the restaurant where his father works. He wants to give the money to his father. The father refuses: it could get him into trouble. Samantha takes Cyril to the police. The matter is settled on the undertaking that Cyril apologises to the victims. The victimised father reluctantly accepts and they shake hands. The victimised son however refuses. Samantha is so angry and upset with Cyril she's at a loss for words. She finally demands Cyril explain himself, but Cyril doesn't have an answer for her. The son catches Cyril by himself and attacks him with the result that the latter falls from a tree. Since it looks serious, the father and son discuss what lies to tell to the police. However, the situation is not so bad as it seems, and Cyril walks away. It's a testament to the skills of filmmakers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne that they make no attempt to pass judgement on the characters who populate their films and why they act in the way they do. Their camera just observes the events as they unfold before us. It's as if the film makers have just happen to be passing through town, and have stopped to record what's going on. "The Kid With A Bike" is film making at its most rewarding.
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Simply magnificent
richwgriffin-227-1766356 January 2013
Warning: Spoilers
There are enough other reviews on here that detail the plot of this superb movie about coping with abandonment - I would rather discuss feelings the story evoked for me. I was in foster care for most of my childhood and I could relate to this kid's feelings of looking for love and care. The stark choice this boy has between a caring loving mother figure and a dangerous older brother/father figure is a "dangerous corner" dilemma that young boys (especially if they come from impoverished backgrounds) often face. The love this special woman finds, the compassion and patience, for a difficult boy. The choices she makes to be compassionate and to be her own person (when she breaks up with her boyfriend).

This is the Darnennes best movie. Too often in other films (especially Rosetta) the characters are too unlikable and get wearisome. This film is about humane choices; sticking it out even and especially when it is difficult. The kid has a chance by the end of the movie that he doesn't have at the beginning.

Jeremie Renier is one of my favorite actors. He plays Guy, the father, who is a coward and abandons his son - mostly I believe out of fear, both economic and emotional.

Cecile de France is extraordinary. I've loved her in everything she has ever been in and she's especially poignant here. I don't mind the lack of backstory for her; it's HIS story.

Thomas Doret is astonishing as the boy. He lacks a moral compass since that is something that is taught by parents. He starts to develop one and one hopes that he will grow to be a kinder more compassionate man due to the compassion given him by this wonderful woman.

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The dry film shear Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne
psagray30 April 2012
Cyril, a boy of eleven, escapes from the foster home, where his father left him after promising to come back for. What is proposed is to find Cyril. After calling in vain on the door of the apartment where they lived, to avoid persecution of hospice staff, takes refuge in a medical office and thrown into the arms of a young woman sitting in the waiting room. This is how, by chance, he meets Samantha, a hairdresser allowed to stay with her at weekends

Sometimes the criticism of certain movies is surprise. This is what happens to me with "Le gamin au vélo." For more than try, I only see a movie with little power, no soul, no spark. It must assess the good performances of Cécile De France and Thomas Doret, and little else. As to the end of the film, it seems no reason abruptly cut. However, the professional critics see a film master, a lesson in cinema, a great exercise in concise narrative

True, the Dardenne not fall into sentimentality, are dry, sharp. There is no compromise with the public, do not stop beating around with his camera movements. But the viewer must be content with the history that has witnessed, and that in "Le gamin au vélo." Does not occur.
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When Bad Endings Happen to Good Movies
jadepietro22 April 2012
This film is recommended.

The bicycle. No longer just a cherished possession or a simple means of transportation used by common folk. No, the bicycle in question has much more at stake. It is an iconic symbol of freedom, a nostalgic metaphor of our lost youth and childhood innocence, a conduit to a simpler life. In cinematic history, the bicycle has served as the main vehicle to the working class life as in the neo-realistic tearjerker, The Bicycle Thief; in more recent times, the bike literally transports us on a fantasy escape against a moonlit sky, as in E.T. Yes, the bicycle is one amazing and powerful piece of equipment.

Which leads us to the foreign film, The Kid with the Bike, a film that doesn't quite amaze its movie-going audience, but does still deliver a powerful message. Abandoned by his father, young Cyril ( Thomas Doret ) is full of anger and hostility to anyone who comes near. One courageous and kind soul who approaches this troubled boy is Samantha ( Cecile de France ), a hairdresser who hopes to help Cyril through this emotional upheaval. Now this is certainly an interesting premise that immediately hooks the audience into caring about the rescue of this melancholy young man by his newly appointed mother figure.

Belgian filmmakers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne have fashioned a simple story about a kid whose only direct link to his missing father is his bike. The story is compelling from the start, thanks to the wonderful natural acting of newcomer Doret. This young actor brings with him a brutal honesty and reckless vulnerability to his character. There is also a strong chemistry with deFrance as his guardian, although her character is a bit underwritten and her motives, though saintly, remain unclear. Their acting enhances the thin storyline with a script in need of stronger character development of the supporting characters and their sketchy lives.

The screenplay begins to meander somewhat along the way in locating Cyril's dead-beat dad as Cyril becomes duped by a shady teenager that he encounters, leading him to make some unethical decisions. This meeting builds rather nicely to some tense moments, but it is midway into the film that the directors begin to lose some focus and gloss over the seriousness of Cyril's actions, diminishing the real life and legal ramifications of this behavior in favor of an ironic twist of fate to be used later in the story. This plot device is heavy- handed and weakens the fully-realized depiction of the boy's harsh unforgiving world. The actions of the characters become unconvincing in the film's sudden rose-colored approach to what was once an uncompromising and intense story.

The time spent on this involving subplot undermines the depth of the relationship between Samantha the Good Samaritan and this Little Boy Lost. Were more time spent on defining their bond and explaining the rationale for Samantha's need to nurture this wayward boy, the film could have been more satisfying and memorable. ( In fact, the film's ending almost seems like an unfinished post-script. The Kid with the Bike lulls the audience to believe wholeheartedly in its characters and their situations, only to disappoint with an abrupt conclusion which defeats everything before it and leaves the moviegoer as disoriented as its main character. )

The Dardenne brothers are masterful filmmakers, and their latest film is a well-made venture worthy of your attention. It is a good film that could have easily become a great film with some added scenes of narrative exposition and minor revisions to the script, especially with its unsatisfying climax. But it is what it is, a rare film that tries to take you places emotionally, and for most of the film, it does achieve that commonality. Unfortunately, The Kid with the Bike gets caught in its own nobility, spinning its wheels and ultimately going nowhere, with some purposeful direction, but without much traction. GRADE: B

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