French-language cinema has, for me, taken a number of twists and turns over the years. Many French-language films would appear on UK TV in the 1980s, some marked with that infamous "red triangle" (signifying adult content at one time), and they all seemed to address very adult subject matter in a very adult, and unflinching, way. A lot of the movies that I saw seemed to feature a lot of sex, but maybe that's because my young brain would seek out any film that sounded as if it would show me those bits and pieces that I was always curious about at that young age. Stop sniggering, I still have a healthy curiosity now, but I'm sure that many people can still remember that strange time when hormones are raging and everything seems so strange and exotic. Yet, the French-language cinema of today is well known to many as a fertile ground for fine modern horror and when they try to do something more akin to the adult output of yesteryear it ends up feeling false and horribly cliched. Like American Translation. Thankfully, they can still do some fine films and The Kid With A Bike is one of them. Which is Belgian. But a Belgian film in the French language.
Funnily enough, it's all about a kid named Cyril (played by Thomas Doret). With a bike (played by a bike). Cyril is an angry young boy, stuck in a youth facility after being placed there by his father (Jeremie Renier). He refuses to take in the harsh reality of the situation when his father's phone number is no longer in service and he is told that he has moved so he runs away to see for himself. The flat is empty and his bicycle is no longer there, apparently sold by his father. While trying to evade the people who want him back in their care, Cyril clings on to a woman named Samantha (Cecile De France). Samantha, obviously moved by the plight of the boy, manages to get his bike back for him and Cyril asks her if she will take him on weekends. She agrees, but her kind and patient nature may not be enough to help a young boy so full of rage and confusion.
Written and directed by the Dardenne brothers (Jean-Pierre and Luc), The Kid With A Bike is one of those movies that may resonate more with people who can identify with one or more of the main characters. This may sound like stating something obvious, something that applies to every movie even, but I really think that some films have an honesty at their core that can be best appreciated by those who have been in the shoes of the main character. Other people can also enjoy the movie, and the universal elements that it contains, but some people will get a bit more out of it. I'm not going to go into detail, it's a movie review and not a diary of my turbulent teenage years, but I'd certainly experienced a few of the highs and lows that Cyril goes through and most of the movie rang true for me.
The script and direction is very good, with a minor failing being the rushed way in which Cyril falls in with a local lad named Wes (Egon Di Mateo), but the film is really taken to a higher level thanks to the performances of all involved. Young Thomas Doret does great work as the young boy who can think of no other way to react to his situation apart from lashing out (the character walks a fine line between being a complete brat and being someone with all defences fully up), Cecile De France is lovely and believable as the woman who takes it upon herself to try to help save a life and even Jeremy Renier is great as the father who just can't manage looking after a child any more. Interestingly, the film doesn't make the absent father into a completely loathsome figure, but prefers to show him as someone who just isn't strong enough to raise his son alone. He truly thinks that he's acting in the best interests of all involved, but he doesn't see the consequences of his actions.
This may not be the first choice for a movie evening, but it's definitely a rewarding one and it's a film that beautifully captures a range of different emotions without ever feeling too heavy-handed or manipulative, in my view. I hope that it ends up being seen by people who get as much out of it as I did.