Blu-ray Review – The Kid with a Bike
Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne’s The Kid with a Bike (2011/Criterion spine #646) tells the story of a young boy in search of himself. His upbringing is not what you would call “ideal.” The people he thought he could trust have turned on him, and as a result, he possesses much pain, anger, and confusion. If not for the help from the unlikeliest of places, this person could have fallen down a destructive path. The Dardennes have explored working class youth before, and had two other films added to the Criterion Collection just last year—La promesse (1996/#620) and Rosetta (1999/#621). This release examines innocence on the verge of being lost. I can’t say that I completely loved it, but I admire what has been given, both in the story and in the special features.
We meet Cyril (Thomas Doret), a boy living in the foster care system. His father, Guy (Jeremie Renier), dropped him off one day, and has yet to return. Cyril places his father on a pedestal, and when his patience wears thin, attempts escape to find him. His quest reveals that Guy sold his beloved bicycle, one of the few personal items that Cyril associates with him. Cyril’s growing frustration to find his father, combined with his hate for being restrained within the home, results in him often times being angry and antagonistic towards authority. He becomes involved in a number of physical altercations. Cyril is a kid who, without help, could end up in some bad places. He finds that help in Samantha (Cecile de France), a hairdresser who takes it upon herself to take him in, get his bicycle, and find his father, even when she’s aware it may not be the happiest of reunions.
The Dardennes present the film stripped of any melodrama. The writing and directing are lean and efficient. Thomas Doret and Cecile de France are honest with their performances; always grounded and never going too far. But with everything that is good, there were elements I didn’t completely buy. Some have described the film as a modern fairy tale, and although I see how the Dardennes attempted that, I’m not sure it succeeded combined with their realistic method. The toughest issue was Samantha’s lack of character development. We never learn why she is drawn to Cyril so much, even at the risk of other personal relationships. I enjoy movies where the viewer has to fill in their own details, but there’s a difference between being spoon fed information and not being given enough to make a valid interpretation.
The picture has been upgraded with a new 2K digital transfer, headed by director of photography Alain Marcoen. This allows colors to resonate with vibrancy, from Cyril’s red shirts to Samantha’s blonde hair.
This release comes with a 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. I noticed this the most when a piece from the Adagio of Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto rings in with full and robust sound. With a story that never goes over the top with its emotions, the sound quality here succeeds in giving us a glimpse into the character’s inner workings.
The bonus material provides very insightful anecdotes behind the making of the film.
A feature-length interview between critic Kent Jones and the Dardenne brothers comes as the main highlight. I was fascinated with how these two people worked together, and how they seemed to be in such tune with filmmaking (they hardly ever disagreed when asked a question). They also give crucial information on why they decided not to provide background to Samantha’s character.
Interviews with Thomas Doret and Cecile de France are included. While Doret’s is fairly short, de France’s is engaging, particularly how she describes having to trust the Dardennes with her character. They didn’t provide her with much, but only the idea to act through sheer instinct.
The half-hour documentary Return to Seraing follows the Dardenne brothers as they travel to five different locations used, and describe how they went tackling the physical limitations while getting everything they wanted. While not as fulfilling as, say, behind the scenes footage of them navigating the space as they were shooting, it still gives us a good look at how these two people collaborate with their own artistic ideas.
In the booklet is an essay by Geoff Andrew, a writer and head of film programming at London’s BFI Southbank. Andrew takes the Dardennes and draws lines throughout their career, touching on constant themes of vulnerability, troubled outsiders, and their constant fascination with the town of Seraing (in Belgium). The piece not only reinforces the notions of established fans of the Dardennes, but also works as a starting point for those looking to delve deeper into their oeuvre.
The Kid with a Bike is very well made and acted, and Criterion provides good material to continue one’s appreciation far after the movie ends. I wanted to enjoy it even more, but the missing pieces to important characters prevent it from taking that extra step.
Overall Release Grade: B+