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Historically, this country has never had a very good relationship with Belgium. It’s got that whiff of EUness about it, and there’s no defining idea of Belgianness for us to get hold of. Our contact with it is confined mostly to visits to beautiful old towns and chocolate.
There are, however, two brothers, Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardennes, who make extraordinary films. I was privileged to watch their latest, called the Kid with a Bike in English, at Ventnor Film Society recently.
They don’t usually do happy endings
The Dardennes brothers have always lived in Seraing, a small town near Liege, and that’s where they make their films. They specialise in ordinary people going through difficulties, and their films are often quite gritty, with a dark view of life and the problems it confronts us with. They don’t usually do happy endings.
The Kid with the Bike has a lot of their usual themes, but is considerably less dark. It’s the story of a boy called Cyril. At the start of the film he has been living with his father, who has put him into foster care and disappeared. We never find out what happened to his mother. We see him desperately trying to find his father, because he doesn’t understand what’s happened. His search also concentrates on his beloved bike, which has also disappeared.
She retrieves his bike
Cyril is intensely angry and frightened and looks to be out of control and destined for a life of trouble, but a chance encounter with a hairdresser in a doctor’s office leads to an offer to foster him at weekends. Cécile de France plays Samantha, who for no good reason simply takes pity on Cyril and decides to help him. Out of the goodness of her heart.
The first thing Samantha does is to retrieve Cyril’s bike, which was sold by his dad before he left home. She and Cyril then go in search of Cyril’s father. The story unfolds gradually from here.
Intensely personal drama
I don’t want to say more because of plot spoilers, but the journey that Samantha and Cyril go on is emotional and wonderful and full of jeopardy for them both. We are drawn into the intensely personal drama despite the fact that everything is filmed in the grimy streets of Seraing, with no special effects or beautiful locations, and all the characters are written as ordinary people dealing with the cards that fate has dealt them, either well or badly.
The magic of this film is in its naturalistic acting and writing, and the brilliant portrayal of Cyril by the first-time actor Thomas Doret, and the lovely unshowy way Cécile de France portrays Samantha.
The bike takes the hawk’s place
It reminded me of Kes, with the bike taking the hawk’s place. At Ventnor Arts Centre there were tears and big smiles, and at least one moment in the film where everyone gasped out loud.
The Dardennes brothers have been honoured at many film festivals, and won Palmes d’Or at Cannes. I’ve actually seen this twice now, and it’s just as good the second time. I hope they continue to make such great films, and I’m looking forward to their next one.