With The Kid with a Bike, the Dardenne brothers came within a stone’s throw of becoming the first filmmakers to be a three-time winner of the Palme d’Or at Cannes, settling for the festival’s second most prestigious prize, the Grand Prix, instead. With only having seen one other film of theirs, the inaugural list’s Rosetta, I technically can’t pass judgment on whether or not they are of such a caliber of filmmaker that they deserve all the accolades that are thrown their way, but I can speak for myself when I say, I’m sure there is much better fare competing at these festivals than the Dardenne brothers churn out every other year or so. Of the two films of theirs that I’ve seen, both are neorealist character studies of an almost identical main character, which makes me think that the filmmakers’ filmography is very monotonous. For comparison, imagine a violinist who can play a single note, let’s say an F sharp, more beautifully than any sound you have ever heard in your life. The first few times, you might still have this entrancement going on for you, but after a few concerts of the exact same thing, it doesn’t matter how beautiful that single note was or is, you’ve had enough and want to hear something different, even if it’s not up to that same level as that single note. This is my experience with the Dardenne brothers (as well as neorealism as a whole), and it is what kept popping up in my mind the whole time I was watching The Kid with a Bike.
Did I mention that this film is, stylistically and character-wise, almost identical to Rosetta? Because that really needs clarification. The main character of this film, Cyril, is basically a younger, male version of Rosetta, so much so that I’m forced to wonder if the Dardennes have any other principal characters in their roster whatsoever. He’s brash, he’s headstrong to a fault, and he doesn’t care what he does, as long as he does it, and then moves on to the next thing, even if it means being blindfully ignorant of the world as it is. I can understand a character that does this sort of thing; I’ve met countless people in my life I can throw the words “blindfully ignorant” at and have it stick fairly well, but that doesn’t mean it is enjoyable for me to watch. I don’t even mean that this film experience isn’t entertaining; I mean that a small part of me took personal affront to the characterization of someone so woefully oblivious to the fact that his father really has abandoned him that he would act so callously out-of-line just to confirm his imaginative fantasies that the opposite is still the case. Again, I understand the character; I know why he would do such things, especially being as young as he is, but this just struck at me as taking my want to be emotionally and entertainingly satisfied with a film, and slapping me across the face, saying to me, “Well, tough shit; you’re going to get a completely reprehensible character, who has basically no redeeming qualities about him, and you are going to like it, son.” No. No, I’m not going to like it, and you, film, you are going to have to be the one to just accept that fact.
Alright, at this point I’m just ranting about the main character, so let’s shift tact a little and talk about what does work with the film. For one, as much as I spouted off on how the main character is essentially irredeemable, imagine to my surprise that by the end of the film, he actually has changed somewhat; his story arc is actually an arc, rather than just a straight line, or even just a single point in time-space. As much as I disliked the little kid in the first hour or so, by the end, I felt he had taken the first steps towards bettering himself, especially with what happens at the end of the film. That’s not to say his character does a complete 180 and we like him by the end, but the insufferable angry bull-headedness that typified his character seems to have lessened somewhat. As for the film itself, just like Rosetta, there is almost nothing about this that sticks out enough to warrant a mention, except for one. This, unlike Rosetta, has an occasional musical score, and I’m not really sure it was warranted; it just felt out of place, like the filmmakers only included it to address concerns about their other films not having one. That, and each time it appeared, it was simply the same snippet of music used over and over, which didn’t help its placement much.
The slight glimmer of redemption at the end of the film lessened the overall effect the film had on me, which up to that point had been predominantly negative. I don’t know if it lessened it enough, but it ended the film on a positive note, rather than just abruptly ending via a cut to black (like Rosetta), so I was thankful for that, at least. That doesn’t mean that the whole rest of the film up to then wasn’t an exercise in self-restraint in the face of a totally unlikable character, because it was, and it’s to that end that I find the film especially hard to recommend. I’ve said this before, and I’ll likely say it again; I know there are people out there who will certainly enjoy this film, perhaps for reasons exactly the opposite to mine, but as for my personal experience, I’ve usually been able to get over the fact that a particular character in a film was unlikable (to put it mildly), but this film has absolutely nothing else except that which focuses on this unlikable kid, which makes it fall just under the line of unbearable. Perhaps I’m being a little too hard on the film at this point; it’s not the film that’s as bad as I’m making it out to be, it’s just the protagonist. Still, if that’s something you won’t be able to get over yourself, this will probably be a bad choice on your part to undertake.
Arbitrary Rating: 7/10
First post over 1,000 words. I hope I’m not getting too long-winded.