Winner of the Grand Jury Prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, “The Kid with a Bike” (‘Le Gamin au Velo”) is a deeply moving new film by the Dardenne brothers (“L’enfant,” “Rosetta”). The film delves into the emotional life of troubled 11-year-old Cyril (newcomer Thomas Doret). When his father (Jérémie Renier) abandons him, Cyril--a feisty young boy-- obsessively tries to find his bicycle— after all, his father must have cared about him enough not to sell that off, he reasons.
Almost by accident, he becomes the ward of a kind hairdresser (Cécile de France), a woman who seems surprised to find herself so determined to help him. With his wild, unpredictable behavior and his disastrous search for father figures and desperation to please his father he turns to crime to give his father money to get his attention to take him back. Cyril risks losing the kind hairdresser, although she refuses to give up without a fight.
Full of heartbreaking betrayals and unexpected grace, “The Kid with a Bike” is about a child, abandoned to the elements, learning to become good, and the Belgian born brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne capture the moment when two lost and lonely people discover the truth and potential of unconditional love.
Film Slate Magazine’s Jasmina Nevada caught up with Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne at AFI Fest and chatted with them after the screening of the film. (Editor's Note: This interview was conducted during a heavily attended Q and A session, and the Dardenne brothers' answers were conveyed to the press by a translator into English. All answers will appear under the combined moniker of "Dardenne Brothers" and the abbreviation of "DB.")
Jasmina Nevada: How did you get such natural performances from Cecile de France and Thomas Doret? And what was it like to direct a child actor?
Dardenne Brothers: We rehearsed a lot with both actors, about 45 days before we started shooting. I think it is the work during the rehearsals that we do in the actual sets that a lot of work is achieved. At a certain point the actors are no longer there performing just there...
We rehearsed for 40 days with all the physical scenes that Thomas and Cecile were involved...Thomas entered the character of Cyril firstly by the movements of his body …Thomas Doret is a boy with a lot of talent…tremendously talented.
JN: How did the music find its way into your film?
DB: What we conceived of the music was a caress for Cecile de France. So the music was really on top of the movie…which would give love to the character. The music and Samantha (Cecile de France) are one and the same and at the end of the movie when Cyril goes towards Samantha and the music pipes up he is going towards love. On the other hand it allows us at other points of the movie to create chapters.
JN: What inspired you to bring this story to screen?
DB: To start with it was a story we were told in 2002 in Tokyo...a juvenile delinquent judge told us about a boy who had been left in an orphanage. His father had promised to come and retrieve him and he never did. My brother and I talked a lot about this story but we didn't know exactly how to develop it until we thought about another script that we had been working on that had to do with a woman and we put the two together and made something about the boy who could be saved by the love of a woman.
JN: What was the casting process like?
DB: When we were done with the script and we were launching the production process we put some ads in the radio and the paper and we did not say that we were looking for a leading role, just that we were looking for an actor of a boy that fit that description. We saw 150 boys. Thomas was the fifth one on the first day of casting. We saw the other actors because when we worked with him at his first audition we felt from the start that it was going to be him (This is Doret's acting debut-JN.).
JN: How long was the process from start to finish?
DB: Took about a year to write the script; my brother and I rehearsed on the actual sets with a small camera, just with each other for two or three months. In order to find the movements of the camera, even if it is with an actor that is not there we imagine the movements and the placements, etc. We rehearsed with the actors for about a month and a half and we filmed them whilst they were rehearsing and in the evening we looked at what they had done to see if it works or it doesn't.
Then we start to shoot. We rehearse first without the technical crew, then we call in the technical crew and they put in the elements that they need and then there is the shoot which took about 50 days and the editing took about 20 weeks so all in all it took about two years to complete the film