I hesitate to call The Kid with a Bike my favorite Dardenne Brothers film, but I do think it’s their most complete film. By complete, I mean that the film encompasses the entirety of the themes they’ve developed in their films. The thematic tapestry of the Dardennes’ cinema is built around a cycle of a reprehensible offense engulfed by an extraordinary forgiveness. But their films often don’t completely track the entire cycle.
The film that comes closest is Lorna’s Silence, but even that film jumps in time and fails for fully completely either of the acts, which might be why it’s perceived as one of the weaker Dardennes films. The Son deals with the forgiveness half while The Child addresses the reprehensible offense. This is not to say the other half is not addressed in either film, but it tends to exist as that which remains off-screen, what is suggested but never shown.
The Kid with a Bike shows the entire cycle. And more than just being a large cycle to easily encapsulate a story, it’s portrayed as a constant, regenerative process. Cyril Catoul (Thomas Doret) finds himself abandoned after his father leaves him. While searching the town for his bike, he stumbles upon Samantha (Cécile De France) who later gives him his bike and also decides to take him home on the weekends.
However, far from expressing sheer gratitude, Cyril constantly finds ways to abuse and overextend Samantha’s graciousness and soon comes into a bad way. His propensity for anger and violence, which first begins with a desire to protect his bike from one of the thieving boys in the neighborhood, gradually turns into something much darker and malevolent.
Far from a nostalgic and doting depiction of a child as being a little rebel or just being a boy, the Dardenne Brothers completely abandon any sentimentality for childhood in order to show in no uncertain terms that Cyril is a bad person. He soon gains the name “Pit Bull” from the kids in his neighborhood because of his violent tendencies and Cyril begins to lash out at everyone around him.
And unlike other Dardennes films where the harrowing acts are left off-screen, the Dardenne Brothers show this violent behavior in full force. It’s never graphic, but it’s shocking and in full force. One could argue that by leaving similar acts off-screen in their other films made them worse in one’s mind, but here, they force you to take it in with your own eyes, a particularly troubling prospect given it involves a young child.
By going further down the path of the reprehensible offense, the Dardennes open up the way to the extraordinary forgiveness. However, what makes The Kid with a Bike even more complete in their works is that the Dardennes recognize that this isn’t the end of the cycle, that there’s more that needs to be observed in order for this transformation to truly have weight. It’s the last act that brings the film full circle.
It’s the last act that leads me to call this their most complete film. I haven’t seen La Promesse or Rosetta. Perhaps those films offer up an exhaustive exploration of the Dardennes themes, but I think The Kid with a Bike demonstrates a refinement and encapsulation of ideas developed over a number of the Dardennes’ films. The Kid with a Bike’s ability to encompass that entire thematic cycle which weaves its way through the Dardennes’ films leads to their most developed work.
© 2012 James Blake Ewing