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The Kid With a Bike (rewatch)

Posted by martinteller on February 17, 2013

My attitude going into this rewatch was one of trepidation.  I felt like I’d probably made a mistake in buying it.  My memory of it was that it was a good movie but on the weaker end of the Dardennes’ output.  I mean, even their weaker end is better than a lot of other stuff, but it wasn’t one I was anxious to revisit.  I figured it would probably end up on the eBay pile, another purchase made too hastily.

I was very pleased to discover how wrong I was.  It’s another very strong entry in their filmography, one that I’m thrilled to have in my collection.  The brothers Dardenne make it look so effortless, but as their interview on Criterion’s Blu-Ray shows, they put a tremendous amount of thought into every aspect of the film… which direction a door opens, which size bottle of juice Cyril should drink, every beat and rhythm and tone.  As carefully planned as the production is, however, it all feels entirely natural and real.

One benefit of a second viewing is that Cyril does not seem as petulant and awful once you know where he’s headed.  He’s a child desperately in need of a figure he can trust.  He trusts absolutely no one… the first ten minutes are an epic struggle for him to acquire proof of his father’s abandonment with his own senses, he’s not taking anyone else’s word for it.  Over the course of the film, he will eventually find someone he can have faith in, but not without some missteps along the way.  It’s an astonishingly good and complex performance by young Thomas Doret… he never plays it “cute” but when he manages to give and receive some affection, he is cute because he’s earned the viewer’s empathy.  Cécile De France is terrific as well.  I love that there’s no pat explanation for why Samantha takes Cyril under her wing.  We’re trusted to accept it.

Although I’m not entirely sure what the ending is meant to convey (I haven’t finished watching that interview yet), it doesn’t feel out of place, and there’s much to be gotten out of it.  It shows that Cyril isn’t necessarily missing much by not having a “father figure” in his life.  It shows that even with a guardian, the world can still be a perilous place with untrustworthy people.  It shows that there can be consequences for harming others, even if you try to make amends.  And it shows that Cyril is resilient, a survivor.  This kid has been knocked off his bike before, and he’ll probably get knocked off again.  But it’s a moment of triumph every time he gets up and starts riding again, full of that restless survivor energy.

It’s an exceptionally rewarding and moving film.  The Dardennes are most likely my favorite directors to not actually have a film in my top 100.  But so far the movies I’ve seen twice (also Rosetta and La Promesse) have all gotten better the second time around, so maybe they’ll make that list in due time.  They’ve consistently had a three-year gap between films, so we’ll hopefully see a new one in 2014.  While waiting, I should revisit the others.  Rating: Very Good (88)

IMDb
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