“Simple but not simplistic” is the expression most often used to describe the films of the Dardenne brothers. Their 2011 film, The kid with a bike, reconfirms the success of their profound and penetrating filmic formula.
Some 20 minutes into the film, the viewer begins to trace a simple story: Cyril, a 12 year old introvert and frustrated child, is searching relentlessly for his indifferent father; and during that pursuit, he gains the sympathy of Samantha, a hairdresser, who helps him in his search and later acts as his parent. Constant rejection from his father leads Cyril to greater frustration and a desire to take refuge with someone, which he does with Samantha. However, the conflict escalates when Samantha starts playing the role of guardian forcing rules on Cyril. His new gangster friend from the neighborhood causes him trouble, and Samantha has to deal with his own insecurities as well.
By the second chapter of the film, the plot has shifted to focus on the relationship between Samantha and Cyril, as Samantha comes face to face with Cyril’s psychological problems and his propensity for a deviant social life.
The remarkably simple storyline, told with typical Dardenne brothers realism, that breathtaking, nearly raw documentary style. Established auteurs, the Dardenne brothers in this feature use recurrent elements of their filmography: A character-centred plot that reflects social reality while, by its striking simplicity, making a strong statement about our humanity. The characters spend most of their time in narrow spaces: corridors, backyards, bushes, dark roads, as well as behind closed doors, which makes them both unique and unnoticed in everyday life. The films of the Dardenne brothers carry with them a unique quality of rawness. This manifests itself in the lack of emphasis on a score, for example, although in this instance there is fairy tale-like music that we hear only four times in the whole film, at those moments Cyril spends by himself: an aesthetic technique that helps support the overall philosophy of the film.
Despite such sparing use of music, the film still has entertainment value as the viewer comes face to face with breathtaking acting. Aside from Dardenne regulars like Jeremie Renier, the film features brilliant performances by Thomas Doret (Cyril), and Cecile De France (Samantha), aided by the amount of close-ups and medium shots, which bring the viewer into a close relationship to the characters, engaging them in the film.
Apart from the usual, masterful crafting of the Dardenne brothers and the strong attention to character details, the film is a deep journey into the realm of the human. More closely looked at, the story is about human relations and the notion of “otherness”. The characters, especially Cyril, are locked in a dialectic triangle of embracing and rejecting each other. Cyril’s problem throughout the film is to be close to his father, who rejects him constantly, as he fears responsibility for his son. This tension is carried through many levels and with many characters. In fact, Cyril carries this tension with everyone who deals with him.
The second chapter of the film is about the fluctuating relationship between Samantha and Cyril. Samantha tries to give security to Cyril, yet when her parenting instincts impinge on his freedom, he begins to run away from her. At times of rejection, loneliness, and freedom Cyril rides his bike down the sloping roads, searching for the void in him.