Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Dardenne Brothers’ Kid with a Bike

Cyril Catoul might be a hard kid to love but his father never really tried the nurture thing. However, a hairdresser might offer the sense of belonging he always lacked, unless he succumbs to the mean circumstances of his environment. Steeped in their familiar working class milieu, the Dardenne Brothers (Jean-Pierre and Luc) invite viewers to look at the world through the eyes of a child fast losing his innocence and wonder in The Kid with a Bike (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

When viewers first meet young Catoul, he is throwing a tantrum of sorts. It is hard to blame him though. Entrusted to an orphanage for what was supposed to be a short term basis, his father has apparently disappeared, leaving no forwarding information. In addition to the obvious abandonment issues, Catoul is quite upset over the apparent lose of his bike and the freedom of mobility it represents.

Inadvertently walking into the boy’s drama, Samantha buys back his bike from the neighbor his father sold it to. Almost as a dare, he invites her to become his weekend guardian, which she accepts in much the same spirit. Of course, the kid still has a lot of resentment and denial regarding his father, but he begins to trust Samantha. However, a local drug dealer also has his eye on the boy, left highly vulnerable to his overtures by his father’s excuses of dire poverty.

Bike is a tough film, but it is also highly compassionate. Despite depicting a tremendous amount of young Catoul’s lashing out, the Brothers Dardenne never condemn him. Viewers, like Samantha, keenly understand the cause of his rage. It is not a fairy tale world, but a typically naturalistic environment from the Dardennes. Nor is Samantha a fairy godmother, which makes her character rather heroic by everyday real world standards.

As Samantha, CĂ©cile de France (recognizable to American audience for her turn in Eastwood’s Hereafter) brings a matter-of-fact earthiness to the film that really cements her relationship with her difficult but sympathetic ward. For his part, Thomas Doret’s performance as young Catoul is natural in a good way, convincingly projecting his anger, insecurity, and vulnerability.

The Dardenne Brothers do not let audiences off the hook easily. There is a severe internal logic to the film they scrupulous observe at all times. Yet, it stands as an unusually humane cinematic rendering of humanity, nonetheless. Highly accessible for general mass market audiences, Bike is strongly recommended when it opens this Friday (3/16) in New York at the IFC Center.