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New Release Review - The Kid With A Bike

Directed by: Jean-Pierre Dardenne & Luc Dardenne
Starring: Thomas Doret, Cécile De France, Jérémie Renier, Egon Di Mateo

Following a chance encounter, hairdresser De France allows wild child Doret to leave his juvenile home and stay with her at the weekends. Upon discovering the child's father,Renier, wants nothing to do with him, she takes him into her care on a permanent basis, battling to keep him on the straight and narrow, and away from local drug dealer Di Mateo.
It sounds like the basis for a nineties TV movie, the type that usually starred Meredith Baxter Birney, and in many hands it could have amounted to such. The writing directing duo The Dardenne Brothers steer away from any schmaltz and sentimentality thankfully. Their best choice was to avoid a classic narrative structure, there's no typical beginning or ending, it's just a few weeks in the lives of the characters. The story may be cliched but the characters and the actors portraying them give it a vitality. I'm a big fan of underwriting characters, it allows the viewer to fill in the blanks and you become a lot more invested than if a screenwriter is shoving their idea of a great character down your throat. The Dardennes tell us almost nothing about the people in this story which is probably why I found them so engaging. The backstories forming in my mind are probably totally different to those of any ten other people who might watch this.
Doret is incredible, a non-actor who was plucked off the street. There are very few great child actors as they almost inevitably make the the mistake of acting above their years, coming across as small adults rather than children. Doret makes no such mistake, possibly because he simply doesn't know how. He's completely natural and his awkward, uncomfortable movements are perfect for the character. I usually despise child characters in films but I was absolutely behind this one. It sounds crazy but the three best performances of the year so far have come from two twenty year old actresses and a twelve year old amateur.
After a somewhat failed stint in English language productions, De France is back on home soil and should stay there as she won't get many roles as good as this in the anglicized world. With her muscular arms she looks like she could beat up any grown man but plausibly struggles to control Doret in his wilder moments.
Kitchen sink dramas like this aren't usually known for being easy on the eye but Alain Marcoen's cinematography is full of eye-popping colour, proving that grittiness doesn't have to equal ugliness.
The Dardennes end this in a way which will likely aggravate many viewers but I found it a perfect denouement.
8/10
The Kid with a Bike (2011) on IMDb 7.4/10

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