Gamin au vélo, Le (2011)
★★★★ / ★★★★
Cyril (Thomas Doret), currently staying in a children’s home, runs away from school to go to his dad’s place to get his bike. Although the counselors have told him that his father, Guy (Jérémie Renier) no longer lives there, he is convinced that this is a lie. He sees for himself that the flat is empty and along with it the bike he values greatly. Some time passed and Cyril is most surprised when Samantha (Cécile De France), one of the women who has seen him cause pandemonium at his father’s apartment complex, brings him the bike he has been searching for. As the kind woman drives away, Cyril stops her and asks if he can spend every weekend with her. She thinks it is a good idea but tells him she must speak with the one in charge first. Cyril is not convinced, but maybe he ought to give her the benefit of the doubt.
Sometimes the simplest films hold the most meaning. Such is the case in “The Kid with a Bike,” written and directed by Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne, completely enveloping in putting us into the mindset of a child who discovers that he is not wanted by his own father and uncompromising in showing the very real dangers of a young person not having anyone to look up to, a role model who is there when needed and, perhaps more importantly, when not.
The scenes that make up the picture are short and to the point. The early sequences involve Cyril visiting all sorts of places he can think of that his father used to frequent like a store or a gas station. Watching him run around should tip us to the fact that the boy in red is smart and determined. When he is faced with a dead end, he does not allow the situation to get to him or slow him down. There is an optimism to our protagonist’s approach that is very painful to experience at times because even though our he does not let the sadness seep in, most of us already have a full understanding of what is going on. For him, it is simple: a dead end is an opportunity to turn around and find another avenue. In essence, the resilience we observe is the reason why we root for this child to find his way.
The film hinges on Doret’s performance. I admired how his anger is communicated in obvious and subtle ways. When he gets into a physical altercation, notably with an older boy who attempts to steal his beloved bike, his movement is brisk and full of purpose. Although the aim is not to maim, it looks like watching a person who has nothing to lose. The other kid, though larger in stature, appears limp in comparison. On the other hand, Cyril’s anger is communicated in the way he interacts with objects like a car, a sink, or a door. Notice the way he cuts bread with a knife. It is messy, inefficient, and out of control.
There is no explicit information provided to us about Samantha other than she is a hairdresser, but we like her. It is not because she is a saint-like figure. No, we like her because she is the only one who is willing to go out of her way to give Cyril a chance. (The counselors in the children’s home do not count because it is their job to look out for him.) The way Samantha looks at him suggests that maybe she comes from a similar background. We do not know for sure. What is certain is that she cares about the kid like he is her own, that by showing him that there is good in the world, he can choose to do good and not be like his absent father or the drug dealer (Egon Di Mateo) who recruits kids around the neighborhood to become budding criminals. In that way, the picture is suspenseful because we are curious about how the boy in red will turn out.
“Le gamin au vélo” touched me deeply for two reasons. First, it is a hopeful but an unsentimental case study of youth that is mostly either largely ignored or falsely represented. Second, the film is a true definition of art because it inspires us to think about what is being said, whether it be via images or dialogues, as well as what we think of our reactions to what we are experiencing. So many movies get away with being so loud and empty. This one dares to be quiet and gently reminds us that we have the power to change lives.