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At The London Film Festival 2011 – The Kid With A Bike review

October 13, 2011 by Simon Kinnear in Festivals, In Cinemas with 0 Comments

Here’s the first of some mini-reviews of stuff I’ve seen at this year’s London Film Festival. To start with, here’s The Kid With A Bike, the first Dardennes brothers film I’ve ever seen. It won’t be my last.

The Kid With A Bike Dardennes LFF2011

The Kid With A Bike

(Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardennes, 2011) 
Bikes have been an enduring symbol of cinema realism since at least Bicycle Thieves, and for good reason. They are symbols of freedom, and escape and movement – perfect cinema, in other words. The same goes for children, whose naturalism and emotional honesty make them perfect movie heroes. Think of Kes, The 400 Blows, you name it.
So then, to The Kid With A Bike, in which the Dardennes Brothers combine these two talismanic influences into an affectionate and affecting portrait of a troubled boy cyclist is very nearly in the class of its illustrious predecessors. From what I can gather – to my shame, I’m a Dardennes virgin – themes of neglectful parenting and sudden, lurching shifts in fortune are to be expected from these guys’ films. But this belies their reputation for being merchants of gloom. Yes, it’s a sad journey, but one flecked with optimism.

The simple plot of The Kid With A Bike hinges on the search by Cyril, ten years old or so, for the feckless, insolvent father who abandoned him, and for his prize possession, the bike of the title.  His quest brings him into the orbit of local hairdresser, Samantha (Cecile de France), whose arrival sparks a twist on which your acceptance of everything that follows stands and falls.  If you find Samantha’s unexplained act of generosity contrived, you’ll keep those nagging doubts for the rest of the film.  If you accept it as a moment of magic and altrusim, then you’ll love the film as much as I did.
One thing is pretty much unarguable.  The performance by Thomas Doret as Cyril is world-class: one of the most convincing kids in cinema. Wanting nothing more than affection and attention, Doret’s yearning, restless movements define the Dardennes’ approach to the film.  Despite the directors’ fondness for holding their shots, the editing moves like lightning, with unexpected ellipses pushing the story on with the same inquisitive, what’s-next logic of Cyril himself. Ditto the camerawork, which captures Cyril in thrillingly long tracking shots, just riding his bike. Like I said: freedom; escape; movement; cinema.

The Kid With A Bike is the Sight & Sound Gala at LFF2011 on Friday 21st October. It is released in cinemas early in 2012.

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