The Dardenne brothers have long been the darlings of the Cannes film festival, winning the Palme d’Or twice (for Rosetta in 1999 and L’Enfant in 2005), and in this year’s festival picking up the Grand Prix for their new movie, Le Gamin au Vélo (The Kid with a Bike).
In many ways, Le Gamin au Vélo follows the pattern of the Dardennes’ previous films, set in the gritty suburban world of their native Belgium and following a young central character. But whereas the earlier movies were almost documentary-like and populated by unknown actors, here casting of the established French actress Cécile De France as Samantha, a hairdresser who takes in the eponymous kid with a bike, 12-year-old Cyril (played by the impressive Thomas Doret), gives the film a less naturalistic but still engrossing ambiance.
Focusing on Cyril’s attempts to escape the care home he has been placed in and to find the father who has abandoned him, the story is at times unbearably sad, not least when Cyril refuses to believe all the signs that his feckless father (played by Dardenne regular Jérémie Renier) has no interest in seeing him. Much of the film is spent following Cyril as he establishes a relationship of sorts with Samantha and falls in with a local drug dealer who uses him to carry out a violent robbery. Although it is somewhat implausible that every character who gets hit over the head with a stick manages to fall unconscious immediately and then wake up 20 minutes later, the narrative progresses at an inexorable pace, and the young Doret has an extraordinary presence on screen. De France seems less at ease as she tries to give a downbeat performance in keeping with the tone of the film but at odds with her innate glamour.
As in many of the Dardennes’ previous films, most scenes in this movie have no backing soundtrack, but the very short orchestral extracts from Beethoven’s fifth piano concerto that punctuate the movie are used to wonderful effect. Only at the very end is the piano part introduced and played at length, resulting in a sense of almost spiritual completion after the grimly spare storyline of the film itself.
Although a Dardenne movie is never going to provide a laugh a minute, the intelligence and delicacy of Le Gamin au Vélo make for a moving and absorbing cinematic experience.Favorite