The relationship between abandoned child Cyril Catoul (Thomas Doret) and kindly beauty salon owner Samantha (Cécile De France), their chance meeting and subsequent journeys together transforming both of their lives in ways they can barely comprehend.
Here’s what I wrote about this release in my original theatrical review:
“Things are not going well for Cyril Catoul (Thomas Doret). He’s been abandoned to a group home for orphan children by his deadbeat father Guy (Jérémie Renier), the man moving without saying goodbye selling the boy’s prized bicycle to help finance the move. Throwing fit after fit, he breaks into the housing complex his dad used to live in to see for himself that he really has departed, clinging to beautiful stranger Samantha (Cécile De France) before his counselors can pry him lose as if his life depended on never losing grasp of her.
In an act of kindness she can’t quite explain, Samantha buys bike Cyril’s bike, delivering it to him at the home. More, when he asks if he can stay with her on the weekends, that the agency is always looking for adults to foster some of the kids to ease their financial burden, she for some reason agrees. Now the two are starting to get to know one another more intimately than either ever would have imagined before their meeting, the young boy broken and battered by the adults who have let him down and the twenty or thirty-something hairdresser looking to help for reasons she can’t bring herself to verbalize.
Like all Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne’s (L’enfant, Rosetta) previous directorial efforts, The Kid with a Bike (Le gamin au vélo) isn’t particularly easy to describe or summarize, even if the plot on its surface sounds relatively simplistic. Once again, they’re exploring the inner workings of individuals who have been beaten down by life’s miseries, desperately searching for a way to move on and heal. In this case, however, they’ve dropped viewers right into the middle of the action, letting us figure out for ourselves just how much trauma Cyril has endured and what kind of tragedies would allow Samantha to open her home to a boy in such a frazzled psychological state.
This cuts both ways. At first, I had an awful difficult time allowing myself to become emotionally invested in what was taking place. Cyril is such a messed up kid, so angry, so filled with rage, relating to him is borderline impossible. Additionally, it’s difficult to comprehend why someone as caring and as measured and as peaceful as Samantha would want to bring this sort of chaos into her home. What does she see in the boy? How does she know this is something she has to do? Why is it important to her? I didn’t know when she agreed and I still didn’t know after the movie came to an end.
Funny thing is, I’m not entirely sure I needed to know. As the movie progressed, the Dardenne brothers unwavering and unflinching eye kept me captivated. I needed to know what decisions Cyril was going to make. Was he going to keep trying to get to a father who didn’t want to be part of his son’s life? Would he let himself be brainwashed by the neighborhood’s charming local drug dealer and work with him on an upcoming heist? These questions and more hovered in the air throughout, the whole thing playing out like a hardcore Cassavetes-like drama-slash-fairy tale that hit closer to home than the opening scenes ever would have led me to believe possible.
Am I completely satisfied? Not entirely. I do have lingering questions I’m frustrated the Dardenne’s didn’t even attempt to answer. At the same time, the way they illicit performances from their actors continues to be astonishing (I’m not sure De France, whom most know from Hereafter and High Tension, has ever been better), their work with newcomer Doret particularly stunning. What they ask of the boy, what they urge him to deliver, is as complicated and as internally multidimensional as any performance I’m likely to see this year. He’s remarkable in the movie, and the depths he is willing to descend to are so emotionally devastating part of me is still feeling reeling from the experience.
You get the feeling that Luc and Jean-Pierre are starting to flex their directorial muscles and broaden their horizons. The brothers use snippets of music in the picture for what I believe is the first time, and they also allow a bit of lightness and hope to enter into the proceedings in a way that feels organic and necessary but doesn’t dilute the darker edges of the scenario they’re presenting. The Kid with a Bike certainly won’t be for everyone, and it certainly left me with lingering questions I’m irritated weren’t even partially answered. But overall this movie is an emotionally exhilarating ride I’m still mulling, watching it an experience I certain to not soon forget.”
Like the majority of films handled by the Dardenne brothers, The Kid with a Bike is a drama that sticks to your guts in ways difficult to fathom at first glance. The movie has a haunting quality that grows on you the more you think about it, so much of the dramatics being depicted worth debating, discussing and savoring again and again. Tough? Sure. Sometimes not altogether pleasant? You better believe it. But it is honest, cutting to the quick and to the bone without hesitation, and as such it’s a cinematic effort to be cherished as is the entire output of Luc and Jean-Pierre as a whole.
The Kid with a Bike is presented on a dual-layer 50GB Blu-ray MPEG-4 AVC Video with a 1.85:1/1080p transfer. As stated in the included booklet: “Supervised by director of photography Alain Marcoen, this new digital transfer was created in 2K resolution on a Northlight scanner from a 35mm interpositive.”
The Kid with a Bike rides onto Blu-ray in French DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and includes optional English SDH subtitles. Again, from the included booklet: “The audio for this release was mastered at 24-bit from the original digital audio master files using Pro Tools HD.”
Extras here include:
· Conversation between film critic Kent Jones and directors Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne (1:13:18) – Exhaustive conversation with the directors covering both the film as well as their directorial style and what attracts them to a story as filmmakers. Wonderful.
· Interview with actor Cécile de France (18:55) – The actress discusses working with the Dardenne brothers as well as what drew her to the character.
· Interview with actor Thomas Doret (5:53) – A short interview with the actor portraying the titular character.
· Return to Seraing (33:16) – Beautiful mini-documentary chronicling the Darndenne brother returning to the town in which they shot the bulk of the film.
· Original Theatrical Trailer (2:24)
Also included is a 14-page Illustrated Booklet featuring an essay by critic Geoff Andrew.
Like all Dardenne brothers’ dramas, The Kid with a Bike is guaranteed to stick with you in ways you do not expect. Criterion’s Blu-ray release is as exceptional as ever, making the decision to pick it up for your personal hi-def library a relatively easy one.