Thursday, December 20, 2012

#646: The Kid With a Bike

(Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardennes, 2011)

I wouldn't necessarily say that The Kid With a Bike, the latest film from the Dardennes brothers, is better than Rosetta, certainly the most highly praised of their three movies in the collection. But this one is my favorite nevertheless, mainly because it moved me more than any movie I've watched recently.

I think a big part of the reason the film affected me so much is my personal situation. Fortunately, I have never had anywhere near the problems Cyril has had, and my son will hopefully grow up comfortable in the knowledge that his father will always be there for him. But because I have a young son, I identified so strongly with Cyril that I saw my son in him - even if he is 10 years older than him and half a world away. On its surface, The Kid With a Bike is about the need for the love of a father, and seeing a boy come to grips with his rejection was no different than watching a young boy being hurt or even killed - its impact was this visceral.

The Kid With a Bike is in a deeper sense a guide through Raising Cain, an exploration of the process of a boy discovering his emotions and struggling to express them in a broken society. It's not just Cyril that struggles with it here - there's also the criminal who befriends him, Samantha's boyfriend who must stick up for his honor to a young boy, and finally the son of the newspaper man that Cyril attacked. The men in The Kid With a Bike paint a dim portrait of masculinity and self-esteem. It might be said that Samantha saves Cyril from this cycle of violence and neglect, but I prefer to think Cyril saves himself. One of the most striking moments in the film comes after Cyril has attempted to give the money to his father, who has - perhaps reluctantly - rejected it. As he bikes home in silence, the camera tracks alongside him and we begin to understand his turning point has come - he's ready to accept Samantha's love over the chance to prove himself as a man.

One thing I really love about the Dardennes's films is how accessible they are. These are heavy, deeply textured films that require emotional strength and challenge assumptions about humanity. But they are also tightly constructed, economical in both plotting and direction, and thematically focused. It makes them a pleasure to watch even though they are intense and occasionally exhausting. A non-Criterion title, The Son, is often cited as their best film - I've almost watched it for years now, but after seeing the films in the collection, I'm really looking forward to grabbing the three films they made in the 00s and getting wrapped up in the lives of the vivid characters they create.

Update: I just realized how much this movie reminded me of an article that came out a few months ago on the DC Sniper. Obviously no comparison in terms of what Cyril is asked to do - and it's only one of the many dynamics in the movie - but it's a fascinating read and speaks to the male psyche at a young age.

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