THE KID WITH A BIKE / LA GAMIN AU VELO (Dir. Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne, 2011, Belgium/France/Italy)

Each year when the Cannes Jury has to decide which film deserves the prestigious Palme d’Or, the decision is usually met with either disappointment or joy. No one critic is ever satisfied. The 2011 Cannes Jury headed up by Robert De Niro certainly got it wrong, choosing to go after the over hyped and pretentious Tree of Life. A lot of Tree of Life’s success had to do with the presence of Brad Pitt, Sean Penn and Terence Malick – supposed American auteurs with an international profile. Many of the films that screened in competition at the Cannes film festival have yet to arrive at UK shores but one thing is certain – The Dardennes latest feature The Kid with a Bike is in my opinion the best film of year and also the film that should have really been awarded with the Palme d’Or. No film maker(s) have ever been awarded the Palme d’Or on three different occasions but had the Dardennes been given the prize they deserved then a new precedent would have been established. The Dardennes have previously been awarded the Palme D’or for Rosetta (1999) and L’Enfant (The Child, 2005). Perhaps it is a festival that doesn’t like setting new records and breaking old ones. As far as I’m concerned Malick’s Tree of Life is in fact a dud in the oeuvre of such a revered auteur. The same cannot be said of The Dardennes work to date. They have made every film count and although they have only directed six films to date, the control that they demonstrate over their latest feature validates their significance as film makers of true humility, simplicity and yes, dare I say it, humanism. Mark Cousin’s 15 hour journey through film history currently airing on Channel Four has tended to focus on the idea of creative innovation but if one was to look closely at the work of The Dardennes it is hard not determine they are not innovators. Perhaps some would argue they are. Nor are they neo realist film makers, which is a label often associated with them. One significant aspect of their work is that their films are always set in the now and they have yet to make a film set in the past and I doubt if they ever will. The now is concrete proof of their everyday connection with reality and capacity to deal with ordinary people and the most elemental of emotional dilemmas including companionship, identity, money, love, death, childhood and youth. The ‘transcendental style’ (Paul Schrader) of the Dardennes has its origins most pertinently in the work of Robert Bresson with which the film makers have come to share an increasingly elliptical approach. Although Bresson is an important influence on the work, most of their films could easily have been made at the high point of early silent cinema. The Kid with a Bike is the story of Cyril, an 11 year old boy. When Cyril is rejected by his father, he is taken in by Samanatha who works as a hairdresser. Most of the film revolves around Cyril’s coming to terms with his father’s rejection and the acceptance of a new life with Samantha. The brilliance of this film lies in the mystical denouement in which Cyril is transformed into an enigmatic symbol of continuity; it’s one of the moments of the year. Interestingly, the title of the film amalgamates two of the Dardennes favourite films; The Kid (Chaplin) and Bicycle Thieves (De Sica). I wonder if this is deliberate?

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