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Child's Play Hell

The Kid With a Bike (2011)

Christine Plenus/Sundance Selects

Brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne have a real talent for creating unpleasant characters. Their latest enfant terrible is 13-year-old Cyril Catoul (Thomas Doret), protagonist of “The Kid With a Bike.” He’s been throwing fits nonstop ever since his father Guy (Jérémie Renier, naturellement) dropped him off at an orphanage and then disappeared without a trace. Master cinematographer Ed Lachman grumbled privately after the New York Film Festival press screening that the portrayal of the father isn’t believable. But who really can blame Guy for being so heartless when Cyril is evidently some kind of demon spawn with a case of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder from hell?

What is more unrealistic is Cécile De France’s turn as Cyril’s saintly weekend foster parent Samantha. After she buys back Cyril’s beloved bike which Guy had evidently sold, Cyril brazenly asks to visit her on weekends. Not only does she readily accept, she proceeds to put up with whatever tantrum he throws even to the detriment of her own relationship with Gilles (Laurent Caron). In fact, one would almost wish for Ms. De France to channel her character Marie from “High Tension” and teach Cyril a thing or two with that barbed-wire-wrapped fence post.

Seriously, enough is enough. The Dardennes are nothing but one-trick ponies. While Ken Loach and Mike Leigh are also known for the same kind of gritty neorealism, at least they’ve demonstrated that they are equally capable of a sense of humor or period settings from time to time. But not the Dardennes. Yet the juries at the Cannes Film Festival keep showering them with even more accolades — They awarded “The Kid With a Bike” the Grand Prix. To be fair, the film is engaging and well-made, but it’s just so darn frustrating to watch characters subjecting themselves to increasingly improbable situations without putting up a fight even though they are readily prepared to fight with each other.


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