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Film Review

The Kid With a Bike

Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Belgian film making brothers, have become known in America for their often poignant social realism films about the poor and the marginalized, often with a focus on children. But they had an earlier career of documentaries, few of which screened here. They typically write, produce, and direct their own films. Their first film to play widely on this side of the Atlantic was "La Promesse" (1996), a powerful story of a Belgian boy who pledges to a dying black immigrant worker that he will care for his family. "Rosetta" (1999) and "The Son" (2002) were also well received, and "L'Enfant" (2005), with its gripping story of a drifter young woman whose boyfriend sells her baby, won the Palme d'Or at Cannes and many awards elsewhere. All of their films are done in a very natural style, with hand held cameras, minimal lighting, and sometimes nonprofessional actors.

Their latest, "The Kid With a Bike", tells the story of Cyril, a young boy whose father has abandoned him. The film opens with Cyril, a cute blond haired boy, escaping from an orphanage where his father had placed him a few months ago. The home is not a Dickensian stereotype, has kindly counselors, and they find him and attempt to bring him back. He runs, dashes into a hair dresser's salon to escape, is cornered, and desperately clings to the surprised hair dresser, Samantha, to keep from being taken away. She says: "You can hold me, but not so tight". The counselors apologize to her, but surprisingly, Samantha agrees to visit Cyril at the home on the weekend. Cyril is obsessed with finding his father, convinced that his father has lost his telephone number. Also, Cyril had a much loved bike, that has disappeared, stolen thinks Cyril. But the truth is far worse. Samantha locates the bike, buys it, and gives it to Cyril when she visits him. This begins an unusual relationship between the two that is rocky and often turbulent. "The Kid With a Bike" focuses as much on Samantha as on Cyril, who proves to be as loyal and loving toward Cyril as if he were her son. When Cyril asks "Why did you agree?", Samantha says "I don't know". There is a great deal more to the story, many twists, some dreadful, but always riveting and fast paced. We often see Cyril, running from neighborhood to neighborhood, in his desperate search for his father. He is always in red, which seems symbolic on several levels.

Performances are first rate; no one seems to be acting. The boy who plays Cyril, Thomas Doret, is unknown in this country, but his performance is astonishing, and Samantha, played by Cecile de France, is wonderful but with her motives never fully explained other than her extraordinary humanity. The music is sparing but unusual and effecting: poignant passages from Beethoven's 5th Concerto (Emperor) are played after pivotal scenes. Also unusual for these filmmakers are their daylight outdoor scenes, rather than grim darkened interiors as in many of their other films. Most scenes were filmed on location in or near Saraing, the Dardennes' home town in Eastern Belgium. Their film is gem, short (87 minutes) like most of the Dardennes' films, but unlike their others, is essentially optimistic and contains the possibility of renewal. We see believable people, with their mix of good and bad, trying to make the right decisions. I loved "The Kid With a Bike", and it confirms that the Dardenne Brothers are great film makers, with their own deep humanity. Just opened at the Embarcadero and the Shattuck (Berkeley).

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