The Kid With a Bike Blu-ray/DVD
Feb 11, 2013 Web Exclusive
The cover sleeve for Criterion's release of the Dardenne Brothers' The Kid With a Bike identifies the filmmakers as "masters of the empathetic action film," an assertion in which everything's seemingly in its right place aside from the slyly placed "action." Crafted with meticulous detail and restraint, Kid captures the intrinsic understanding of what it feels like when young people find themselves in that crucial moment of life when growing up isn't a choice, but rather an imperative.
Thomas Dorset plays Cyril, the titular character on whom the audience attaches their own memories and expectations of childhood. Unassuming and plaintive, Cyril possesses the sort of ubiquitous youthful innocence that allows for immediate connection. Orphaned after his father disappears from the apartment complex where the two live, the young adolescent struggles through foster care until one day he runs away to get answers. Natural instinct compels him to search for his father.
Along the way Cyril meets Samantha (a spectacular Cecile de France), a local hairdresser who takes pity on the young boy by agreeing to weekend supervision. From this point forward the two are forever linked, and though her affinity for the young boy is never overtly explained, the quiet ways in which the Dardennes show the interaction between the two is the film's greatest joy; the bond seems organic for reasons that are best felt than discussed. Samantha aids Cyril on the search for his father, a quest that becomes as much about the tangible as those liminal emotional spaces that actually make up who we become.
In one of the DVD's illuminating special features, the Dardennes articulate a desire to communicate human emotion through simple stories and stylistic techniques. They go back to the original locations of the shoot to recreate the staging and philosophy behind the moment when the two protagonists meet. The brothers speak about the process driving their filmmaking, notably passion and exactness, pointing to several ideas that were tried but failed because they produced a hyper-characterization that ultimately rang false with the simple truths at play.
Interviews with actors Cecile de France and Thomas Dorset prove equally enlightening. Working with de France marks the first time the directors had to manage a "star," a dynamic that was immediately apparent to everyone involved. The "star" identifies the expansive rehearsal time (6 weeks on set) and nurturing atmosphere the directors created as key factors that helped her realize she did not need to create a character but rather relinquish control to the masters at the helm. Similarly Dorset, acting in a film for the first time, charts the trajectory from sending in a head-shot to a generic casting call to being immersed on a film set within weeks.
What Criterion may have meant when they identified the Dardenne signature as empathetic action was a literal translation of the term: action occurs during all of life's moments, not merely those bound in frenetic energy. Their films, especially Kid, highlight this with hypnotic flair. A "modern fairy tale" is how de France identifies the film, an understanding that seems particularly appropriate. The characters onscreen take on a symbolic quality particularly because of their instant recognizability, a trait that is indeed unique to the Dardennes.
Author rating: 8/10
Average reader rating: 8/10
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