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Star – A bike
Genre – World Cinema > Drama
Run Time –100 minutes
Certificate – 13
Country – Belgium
Amazon – £5.99 DVD £9.74 Blue Ray
Golden Globe – 1 Nomination
Awards – 9 Wins & 25 Nominations
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Adoption and fostering is very political these days. Social workers don’t want to place dark skinned kids with white skinned parents for cultural reasons and white skinned parents tend to be the percentage of the adopters, meaning there are more ethnic minorities in care than there should be. Parents generally only want to adopt very young kids, preferably female and of their own race, black boys the least popular pick, apparently, presumably so they can mould them into their white and liberal middleclass ideals and environment. They go into the adoption process thinking there are lots of cute baby’s ready and waiting when in reality it will most likely to be a child from a trouble background that’s on offer. It was revealed recently that potential parents can be as picky as the social workers, often about trivial things, like the name of the child. Girls called Chardonnay and Jade were the least likely to be adopted in the U.K.
The kid With The Bike is a drama about a 12-year-old French boy in that care system and featured in the ‘1000 Movies to see Before You Die’ publication. It’s a modem day fable by the Belgium born Dardenne Brothers who like to explore themes of urban loneliness and social separation. It doesn’t get political on adoption but the script was structured with a fairytale in mind, where the boy would lose his illusions and an unlikely savior would appear as a fairy-like figure. Kids in care have just a 3% chance of going to university compared to the general population of 37%. They have a 37% chance of ending up in jail. They need to be out of those failing families and a disgrace government doesn’t provide more leeway for councils to do that. Interestingly, over half of foster kids here in the U.K. at the moment are actually foreign nationals, many asylum seekers and much older than they claim, as we saw at the Jungle. What was that all about!
• Thomas Doret as Cyril Catoul
• Cécile de France as Samantha, hair dresser and foster mother of Cyril
• Jérémie Renier as Guy Catoul, father of Cyril
• Fabrizio Rongione as Bookseller
• Egon Di Mateo (fr) as Wesker
• Olivier Gourmet as Café owner
Disruptive 12-year-old redhead dynamo Cyril (Thomas Doret) has been in care for one month now. His dad (Jérémie Renier) is recently divorced and has done a runner, dumping the kid to get him off his hands as he tries to hold down a new job and a new flat. Cyril believes his dad will come get him one day and constantly on the phone to his old flat. But dad is not at his old flat anymore where Cyril’s beloved bike is, which he wants back as much as his dad.
Cyril decides to escape the home and track down his bike, which he does, dad selling it to another kid on the estate. In the search for dad and bike he meets 30something hairdresser Samantha (Cécile de France), who buys Cyril the bike back from the other kid to resolve a conflict. The two form a tentative and tenuous bond right there and after a few more meetings the kids home agree to letting him stay with her at weekends above the salon, time for Cyril to set about finding dad, which he quickly does. But dad is not too keen on the kid finding him, now working as a chef and sleeping with the female boss at her house.
With his bike underneath him Cyril feels free and whizzes around the streets. There he meets some bad boys near the salon, headed by Wesker (Egon Di Mateo), who grooms the kid to commit a serious crime. Out late at night, Samantha fears for his safety and tries to confront the behavior yet the boy still hostile to the only person that really cares about him. But how to mend his relationship with his father?
For a film in the top 1000 ‘must see’ list its not that must see. It’s OK for a heavily lorded foreign film but nothing more. That’s not to say it’s a band movie or anything. I got enough from it and didn’t fast forward once. I think the problem is for British viewers that this film is just all too Ken Loach and we see one of these come out every other month and so no new ground covered, but to French and Benelux film goers this is on quite a niche subject and when they tackle delinquent kids on film over there they tend to be lively and violent ethnic ghetto kids. Our anti hero is as ginger and English as Prince Harry. The young Thomas Doret is excellent as the almost familiar British chav like tear-away though and the situations he gets into also cliché to the delinquent young teen genre. The non-descript suburban areas of Toulouse it’s filmed in do give it an extra social depth to explore and far from the equally cliché urban jungle these things are often set in. I suppose the director is reminding you these kids are not just in poor areas.
What’s different here from the norm is the director is making a modern gritty urban fairytale instead of the predicable rap and dance music powered tale of drugs, guns and poverty, Cécile de France the unlikely savior of the lost and unloved soul. We have seen that narrative in a thousand animated films over the years and so why not in an arty French film. It’s certainly an unrealistic film at times and always pushing you by asking the viewer why the hairdresser would want to save this kid and sacrifice her partner and salon looking after the little sod that’s giving her the runaround. When you see these feral kids for real and always unsupervised by the same old loser parents then why should you bother? The maternal instinct can only be stretched so far. Luc Dardene is known for asking those abstract questions through his film.
It cost 5.8million Euros to make and did 6 million back, which is considered a success for European subtitled film. Remember those guys are also watching Jack Reacher and X-Men in the cinema and also neglect their own movies. On the whole, though, a solid predictable urban tale with good performances and that slightly abstract story engages you to the predicable ending. But for me I didn’t feel for any of the characters and buy into the social situations that are developed and so not hooked into hte movie enough. Ken Loach does do this stuff much better. It needed to be tougher with a bigger punch, the way Loaches Sweet 16 was. I suspect the gorgeous French star that is Cécile de France was only cast because of that and so her job had to be a hairdresser, the only place where pretty upper working-class girls can be found in suburbia.
Subtitles are few and far between if you are stressed about that and the 100 minute runtime makes this, one of the more tolerable French films around. They can go on a bit when relationships have to be built you now, usually lost in a fog of cigarette smoke and melancholia.
Imdb.com – 7.6/10.0 (21,342votes)
Rottentomatos.com – 96% critic’s approval
Metacritic.com – %critic’s approval
TV Guide –‘It's a powerful, well-crafted film and a striking depiction of a side of growing up few filmmakers have tried to put on film. Fewer still have captured it with this sort of honesty and emotional gravity’.
CNN –‘There is not a wasted shot in this stripped down, pared back fable. Yet, it accrues a deep and lasting power. You won't see many better this year’
De France does a terrific job of balancing maternal instinct with matter-of-factness, in a performance that is more human than tender - and all the more powerful for it.
Canada Echo –‘a complex interweaving of bitter reality and a deeply humane worldview that sees the possibility of redemption in even the cruelest of circumstances’.
Daily Telegraph –‘Dardenne heroes are crafty and restless, down but not out, and Cyril ought to be one of their best. For whatever reason, he isn't, quite’.
Vue Weekly –‘The Dardennes smoothly shift one gear up in the film's coda, offering a sting of humility before a flash of quiet grace. Then we're left watching after one boy on his bike, stubbornly moving, moving, moving, a force to be reckoned with and respected.
The Patriot Ledger –‘The images speed by so fast that you hardly have time to think. But think you do. And what you think about most are all the lost and neglected children of the world’.
Jean- Pierre and Luc Dardenne are two brothers from Belgium who I like very much. They have been making great films for donkey's years and have a very distinctive style. Generally, their films are minimalistic, have no soundtrack and are naturistic. They describe working class Belgium, family and economic struggles. Maybe not everybody's cup of tea, a bit depressing, I hear you all say. They can be sometimes but films like Rosetta, The Son and The Child have won lots of awards at the Cannes Festival and the new film, The Kid with the Bike, won the Grand Prix Award in 2011, Best Foreign Language Film in 2013 at the Central Ohio Film Critics Association.
The film is in French with English subtitles, at first you may think this is a very simple film but it isn't, it is a powerful, compassionate picture of children and parents, set against the subjugated culture of a modern Europe haunted by the ghosts of a religious past. If you have ever seen Vittorio De Sica's 1948 Italian neo-realist film, Ladri di biciclette (original title) or otherwise called Bicycle Thieves, you will see similarities. Both of these films are about a father, his son, a bike, and a search. Whereas in the Italian film we see a man and his boy searching Rome for a bike, the Dardennes' film is about a kid who finds his bike early on in the film and then rides it around a Belgian city, searching for his lost father.
Let me introduce you to Cyril (Thomas Doret), he's the boy in the film. He's an eleven year old scamp who has strawberry blonde hair accompanied by freckles. He's hard to handle, bites and scratches, runs away from authorities and has 'ants in his pants'. He's representative of an unsettled child. At the beginning of the film we see young Cyril on the phone trying desperately to contact his father (Jérémie Renier) but he can't hear any dial tone. The dramatic one-sidedness of this says everything about the boy's plight: he needs a dad and wants so much to receive his dad's love, but there is no answer on the other end.
We learn that the boy's father recently dropped him off to live in a state home for young boys, promising it would just be for a month. If the truth be known he wants nothing more to do with his son even though he tells Cyril that he wants to start over again. The boy believes him and wishes every day that they will be united again. It's very sad to watch as Cyril pursues his father and yet gradually comes to realise that his father doesn't feel, give in response or show any interest in a relationship. Like every child, Cyril, has a deep need for a parent - for someone to love and look after him. That's the real pursuit of this film.
Along the way, the boy bumps into Samantha (Cécile De France), a kind, hairdresser, in her thirties, who agrees to be his foster parent. She takes him in and loves him for who he is, even if he is a bit of a tyke (he's the kind of kid who turns the water on harder when he has been told to turn it off). For Cyril, Samantha is a stroke of luck; without her seemingly unintentional appearance, his shaky path would have taken him God knows where. The film has many merits including the way it forcefully illustrates how vulnerable children like Cyril often end up with a bad crowd while trying to find a neighbourhood that cares. Samantha is an angel who has arrived to protect Cyril from these things, fighting with him as she tries to stop him leaving the house at night to meet up with a shifty gang leader.
While Samantha seems to be Cyril's guardian angel, she's very much as broken and disadvantaged as Cyril. She needs the boy as much as he needs her, and their timely encounter feels less like destiny than the movement of some larger unseen influence, looking out for the both of them.
Kid with a Bike is a story about both of them. At one point Samantha's boyfriend, cheesed off with her incomprehensible patience with the very naughty Cyril, issues an ultimatum. "It's me or him." Samantha doesn't need to think about her boyfriend's request, she has made her choice and it is Cyril. What motivates her unconditional love for this boy? As with Cyril, we know nothing of Samantha's history. Maybe she lost a child or was kicked out by her own parents when she was young. The only thing we know is what we see, an unbelievable moving pursuit of one human being after another, the former anxiously wanting her love to be received, the latter having a difficult time trusting anyone's affections.
What I love about this film is the way the camera is observational but unobtrusive at the same time. At times you feel like there is no camera and the stark approach puts the focus on the characters and gives it an eerie realism. You get lost in the film as you are drawn into the narrative vignettes of ordinary people in the industrial town of Seraing where most Dardenne films are set. If I am right, I think the Dardenne brothers are from this Belgian town. I think it helps to understand the film more because the narratives are very human and universal. Most of us have felt that 'kick in the stomach' feeling sometime in our lives, when you love someone and they don't love you back.
Kid on a Bike is a little different to other Dardenne films. This one has a soundtrack of sorts. Let's say we hear 60 seconds of Beethoven broken up into a repeated 15-second excerpt from the second movement of his piano concerto No 5 in E flat Major, Adagio un poco mosso of the Emperor Concerto. The occurrence of such music shocked me because it is rarely used in films and it is very evocative. I know it sounds barmy but each time the music came in I felt like some sort of spiritual reality was hovering above, dipping down every now and again to offer liberation. It was as if someone or something wanted to let me know through these rapturous 15 second bursts of Beethoven that all will be well in the end.
In a way the film is a cross between a fairy story and something more spiritual. The fact that the boy wears red in every scene springs to mind Little Red Riding Wolf, lost in the wood. At one point he goes to meet the big bad wolf, a menacing youth who didn't have the presence of a guardian angel like Samantha in his life. This wolf is the pawn to Samantha's doting motherly figure. I also felt that there was something godly out there looking out for Samantha and Cyril. Remember, this is modern Europe, we don't see any churches or hear any religious quotes but something/someone is active in both the lives of Cyril and Samantha. Their paths have been pushed together when they seem to need each other very much, they are being guided through tough times and Cyril is being kept out of all kinds of danger, something we see in the final ending.
If the film begins with the boy trying to contact his father, but receiving no dial tone, it ends with him feeling - perhaps for the first time that someone is there for him, looking out for him. Indeed, this is one of the things Kid with a Bike articulately reminds us: that there is sometimes an ever-present help for us in times of trouble, but it often comes to us in a different way than we expected.
As for the actors they are sensational. Let's take Thomas Doret as the ginger haired kid; his child performance is one of the best I've seen. This isn't some cute kid that you find adorable and want to stroke his hair. You like him, yes, because of his hard character and the way he handles life and is a person rather than a child. The scenes with his father are heart-breaking, it was a relief to see him in some brighter moments and when I thought he was going to get into deep trouble my brain ached with the tension of it all. One remarkable young actor!
Jérémie Renier plays Cyril's dad. He is a regular in Dardenne films, is a born natural. His character studies are so realistic - you believe he is the person he is imitating.
Cecile De France plays Samantha, a terrific actress who has a really expressive face, is natural and always convincing. She won Best Actress for this role in the 2011 European Film Awards.
I saw this film at a little cinema close to my home, it shows a lot of arty films and the admission is cheap. The film lasts for 87 minutes; I was glued to the screen and enjoyed every minute of it, even the harrowing parts. I am a fan so I will watch anything by the Dardenne brothers but if you aren't you might find it a bit slow. I suggest taking the film out as a rental and not paying to see it at a film theatre.
For some reason the film is not rated but I would give it a PG certificate as there is no swearing, no nudity, and no sex! There is a bit of violence but it isn't gratuitous. The film is all about families and parenting.
The subtitles may be difficult to keep up with if you have reading difficulties or are a slow reader.
It gets five stars from me.