Absence plays a strong role in the films of Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne (L'enfant, The Son), one could even describe the condition of loss as a recurring character within their celebrated body of work. Often, as in their latest film, The Kid With a Bike, what's missing is within arm's reach, an unrealized desire made worse by proximity to what the character craves.
In The Kid With a Bike, it's the abandonment of a young boy named Cyril (Thomas Doret) by his father, Guy (Jérémie Renier), that drives the story forward. As the film opens, Cyril begins to realize that his temporary stay at a home for boys is a far more permanent arrangement than his father had promised. What's more, Guy has moved out of his apartment without leaving a forwarding address, selling Cyril's bicycle to a neighbor boy in the process.
Cyril retrieves his bike in a rough and tumble manner, presaging further violence down the line, and sets off to track down his father. Returning to his father's last known place of residence, he comes under the notice of Samantha (Cécile De France), a hairdresser living in Guy's old apartment building. Taking pity on the boy, Samantha aids Cyril in his search for his father but is unable to protect him from the harsh truths that await him.
The Kid With a Bike arrives with a built in audience. The Dardennes are certified critical darlings and art-house favorites. They're among a very small crowd of directors to have won the prestigious Palme d'Or multiple times at the Cannes Film Festival (this newest work took second place--the Grand Prix--at the 2011 fest). Few directors working today operate with as unified of a vision as the Dardenne brothers; their extremely effective strategies rarely shift from film to film.
If you've seen one Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne film, you know what to expect here. Handheld cameras track Cyril's every movement, watching him struggle against the circumstances he's been handed. The worldview on display is bleak but doesn't rule out the possibility of redemption. Moments of kindness temper the more tragic aspects of the story but, as in everything else in their filmography, the brothers persistently resist the urge to deal in sentimentality.
Given that their best film, Rosetta, has fallen out of print on dvd in the U.S., newcomers to the Dardennes could do a lot worse than to become acquainted to their essential work via The Kid With a Bike. Those already initiated in the Belgian masters' oeuvre will find much to celebrate here, too.
The Kid With a Bike begins its run at the Living Room Theaters on Fri., March 30th. More info available here.
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