THE KID WITH A BIKE: The closed-off world of the brothers Dardenne

THE KID WITH A BIKE is probably the fourth or fifth Dardenne brothers film I’ve seen, and I’m always surprised by a few things. One, how similarly their films are executed in terms of style, tone, theme and even content, and two, how few people have even heard of these guys outside of cinephile circles. These Belgian brothers, infamously warm and joke-y in the press but earnest in their social commentary filmmaking, keep churning out the neo-realist work at the rate of roughly one every two to three years. Often, the story involves a couple, a child and a series of agonizing moral dilemmas. Well, maybe not so agonizing for the audience, who can usually identify right and wrong (like when a new father in L’ENFANT thinks it’s a good idea to sell the baby), but for the characters themselves, whose moral confusion is typically set in a hard knock, European landscape.

In THE KID WITH A BIKE, hairdresser Samantha (Cécile de France) does the right thing by taking in eleven-year-old foster child Cyril (Thomas Doret), a loving but tough, defiant and uncontrollable orphan. How much freedom should she give him? What to do when the boy’s father tells Samantha to relay to Cyril that he never wants to see him again? Money is stolen, thieves beckon, violence enacted. What makes living inside these choices so dramatic is the way in which the Dardennes paint the world as completely closed off. For one, you can barely see beyond the characters. Landscape plays almost no role here, and it’s difficult to even recognize the locale. The camera is so resolute in literally following the actors  (right behind their backs and then swinging around to their faces) that it’s impossible to register anything else. We’re tagging along closely, hearing everything and witnessing moments of heightened emotion from no more than one foot away. The effect is very isolating, forcing one to focus in even more acutely on the drama at hand, unfolding through dialogue but also through body language and behavior. This particular film has been cited as more positive than their others, which usually end poorly, and it’s true – there’s more than a glimmer of hope for humanity. It’s ultimately very narrow, focused work in terms of stripped-down experiences that resonate broadly. Check out the Dardennes’ work while waiting for BIKE to arrive at a theatre near you.