The Kid with a Bike/Le Gamin au Vélo

 

Directed by Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne. Starring Cécile de France, Thomas Doret, Jérémie Renier, Fabrizio Rongione, Egon Di Mateo, Olivier Gourmet 12A cert, IFI/Light House, Dublin, 87 min

TO CALL THE Dardenne brothers reliable is not to damn with faint praise. The Belgian siblings, twice winners of the Palme d’Or, can be relied upon to deliver sad fables of the very highest order.

One can also count on them to trouble the audience by putting their unfortunate characters through the most ghastly trials. Their latest film is somewhat less harrowing than Rosetta or L’Enfant (though it’s harrowing enough), but this remains humanist film-making at its very finest.

On screen throughout, the agitated, hard-faced Thomas Doret plays a troubled boy, resident in a care home, whose every move is directed at engineering reconciliation with his estranged father. This uncaring layabout has fled the family home without leaving a forwarding address. He’s changed his phone number. Worst of all, he’s even sold the poor lad’s treasured bicycle.

While making yet one more attempt to track down dad – much to the annoyance of his largely sympathetic carers – the boy encounters a young hairdresser (the hugely likable Cécile de France) who takes pity on him. She buys back his bike and, when he asks if he can stay with her at weekends, she readily agrees.

With their customary stubbornness, the sibling directors leave a great many questions unanswered. Where is Mum? Why on earth is de France’s character being so helpful? Filling in the blanks adds to the pleasure provided by a film that focuses all its energies on detailing the psychological evolution of a troubled young mind.

Allowing occasional surges of classical music to reveal his inner torment, using a mobile camera to enhance the naturalistic fug, the brothers end up telling a story that – though never sentimental – develops character via an uncharacteristically conventional arc.

You wouldn’t exactly call The Kid With a Bike a feel-good movie, but by the end it certainly invites the viewer to be hopeful about human nature. Another gem from the boys.