The Dardenne Brothers’ Kid with a Bike
(trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.
When viewers first meet young Catoul, he is throwing a tantrum of sorts. It is hard to blame him though. Entrusted to an orphanage for what was supposed to be a short term basis, his father has apparently disappeared, leaving no forwarding information. In addition to the obvious abandonment issues, Catoul is quite upset over the apparent lose of his bike and the freedom of mobility it represents.
Inadvertently walking into the boy’s drama, Samantha buys back his bike from the neighbor his father sold it to. Almost as a dare, he invites her to become his weekend guardian, which she accepts in much the same spirit. Of course, the kid still has a lot of resentment and denial regarding his father, but he begins to trust Samantha. However, a local drug dealer also has his eye on the boy, left highly vulnerable to his overtures by his father’s excuses of dire poverty.
Bike is a tough film, but it is also highly compassionate. Despite depicting a tremendous amount of young Catoul’s lashing out, the Brothers Dardenne never condemn him. Viewers, like Samantha, keenly understand the cause of his rage. It is not a fairy tale world, but a typically naturalistic environment from the Dardennes. Nor is Samantha a fairy godmother, which makes her character rather heroic by everyday real world standards.
As Samantha, Cécile de France (recognizable to American audience for her turn in Eastwood’s Hereafter) brings a matter-of-fact earthiness to the film that really cements her relationship with her difficult but sympathetic ward. For his part, Thomas Doret’s performance as young Catoul is natural in a good way, convincingly projecting his anger, insecurity, and vulnerability.