Aspiring screenwriters need study and learn from Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne’s “The Kid with a Bike” (“Le gamin au vélo”). If it isn’t already, this screenplay should be used in every screenwriting class from New York to London on the art of exposition, character development and how to just simply let a story unfold. Within a few minutes we are drawn into the emotional journey of the lead character, Cyril Catoul, skillfully played by Thomas Doret.
While this is a serious drama, the story unravels more like a mystery than the art house favorite it is soon becoming–with its long list of film festival awards and Golden Globe and Spirit Award nominations. The Dardenne brothers’ story is brilliant at pacing, and knowing how to roll out just enough information to keep you emotionally invested, yet still craving more.
The film opens on Cyril frantically calling his father’s disconnected number, who we soon find out has abandoned him. Cyril responds the way any young boy would: by attempting to run away, by acting out, and by spending most of his time and effort looking for his father, literally and metaphorically.
At first viewing you may find yourself comparing “Bike” to Francois Truffaut’s classic film “400 Blows,” and you would be right–there are many similarities with the look, feel and tone of both films. The simple art of storytelling, however, is where these two films diverge. Not that Truffaut wasn’t a good storyteller–he was, but his brilliance was with the camera, and the Dardenne brothers’ is with the pen. They not only create a beautiful image on screen, but they elevate the art of story to a level that is rarely seen–or, more specifically, rarely seen in American cinema.
Of course, “The Kid with a Bike” is a foreign film. Outside of independent film, and the small handful of quality studio-produced films distributed each year, American audiences are not used to this sort of gem in their local multiplex. And what a shame, because “The Kid with a Bike” is not only an instant masterpiece–but tugs at our humanity and asks what it means to be human and questions why some act less human than others?
Cyril’s father (Jérémie Renier) represents the lesser aspect of that question. In a world where we can’t even take care of our own, what are we left with? In the Dardennes’ world, we’re left with a beautiful angel named Samantha (Cécile De France), the woman who eventually takes an interest in Cyril and ends up caring for him. Even when Cyril pushes every boundary a child can conjure up Samantha never gives up on him and leaves a light of hope in a seemingly callous world.
Oh, and let’s not forget the bike. When Cyril smashes his way into an empty apartment and is thrust face-to-face with his stark reality– he at least wants to find his bike. The bike, that eventually brings Samantha into his world.
In “The Kid with a Bike,” The Dardenne brothers have taken the simple premise of abandonment and false hope and have imbued it with so much more, the way only master storytellers can. While it is lamentable that films like these are so infrequently produced outside of independent cinema (or America, for that matter), here is a chance to learn about the power of real cinema.
DIRECTORS: Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne SCREENWRITERS: Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne CAST: Thomas Doret, Cécile De France, Jérémie Renier RUNTIME: 87 minutes MPAA RATING: Not Rated