Le gamin au vélo (The Kid With A Bike, 2011)—the latest achievement by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne—arrived at the 36th edition of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) after a successful premiere at Cannes, where Danny Kasman dispatched to MUBI and David Hudson followed suit with a suite of reviews. Continuing their coverage of the film, MUBI published Dan Sallitt's dispatch from TIFF and Hudson's aggregate of follow-up reviews from the New York Film Festival (NYFF). It's now positioned in the San Francisco Film Society's French Cinema Now.
The Dardenne Brothers return to form in their engaging The Kid With A Bike, the tale of young Cyril abandoned by his deadbeat father (Jérémie Renier, whose performance salutes his own youthful debut 15 years earlier in the Dardenne's La Promesse). The film tracks Cyril's ensuing emotional delinquency. Angry, nearly feral, and desperate for his father's love, Cyril (in a volatile turn by Thomas Doret) has to learn that lashing out at the world will not bring him love. Cécile de France—last seen swept away by an unusual destiny in the blue sea of Eastwood (Hereafter, 2010)—plays Samantha, a hairdresser who befriends Cyril and strives to contain his volatility; a tsunami of a different sort.
Though The Kid With A Bike harbors now-familiar Dardenne themes of culpability and consequence, its narrative is delivered with a lighter, less realistic touch, and enhanced by a bright palette, emotionally informed by primary hues. Cyril's bright red jacket becomes an indelible image of his frantic pedaling to find a place where he belongs. and the punctuated usage of Beethoven's "Emperor Concerto" suggests the larger spheres of feeling that this small boy is hungry to access.
One notable review not included in Hudson's round-ups is Girish Shambu's capsule wherein he enthusiastically "responded to this film with a primal force because it's about ceaseless movement. Running, pedaling, chasing, being chased, climbing, falling, ducking, darting, hurrying: the film is a virtual catalogue of these (and other) dramatically urgent forms of movement. There's a great moment when the kid shows off his prowess on his bike by stopping it and balancing himself to a point of complete stillness for an instant. It's a quietly humorous moment—an apotheosis—because it tells us that movement is the natural state; it is stillness that must be achieved with the special application of skill." Revisiting the film after TIFF, Girish "was struck by how fully formed the Dardennes' stylistic approach and command were fifteen years ago [with La Promesse]. There's a fantastic moment when Igor, unable to tell the African woman (Assita) the truth, lunges for her and wraps himself around her mid-section in a tight hug, not letting go. The same gesture is repeated in Kid in the boy's first encounter with the woman at the medical office, where he heads straight for her (never having seen her before) and wraps himself around her waist. (He's on the run from pursuers.) I love her split-second response: 'You can hold on to me, but don't squeeze so tight.' "
Girish's sole critique concerned the use of Beethoven, which "seemed like the only false step ... underscoring what the film had already accomplished by other means." In her wrap-up from NYFF, our favorite Self-Styled Siren reported that The Dardennes declared in their on-stage presentation that—though they have admittedly not used music in their previous films—they felt it appropriate in The Kid With A Bike. "They thought of the music," Farran reported, "as a caress: 'It's what Cyril is missing in his life, which is love.' "
Cross-published on Twitch in an earlier edit.