Dear The Boy With a Bike,
Truth in filmmaking is an almost impossible idea. Even our most grounded and reality-based dramas, which trade so heavily in the real-world approximation of their emotions, have a level of unreality which keeps us from meeting them as we would a real world event. A particularly “artful” performance reminds us that these are not real people, while music and stylized camera movements remind us that we are viewing something that has been crafted and manipulated.
The heightened emotions and narrative elemnts of a movie keep that nearness to reality from ever subliming into truth, or honesty. Yet you, The Kid With a Bike, manage to find, in all aspects of your being, a place so close to authenticity that to discern your artifice from pure existence is nearly impossible.
You begin with a young boy, Cyril (Thomas Doret), trying to reach his father on the phone from the office of a youth estate. The boy, left there months ago by his father, refuses to believe either the counsellor at the estate or the super of his father’s apartment when they say that his father has moved out. In the face of all evidence to the contrary, the boy cannot accept that his father would leave him, or that he would take his prized bicycle.
Over the course of his journey to find his father, Cyril runs into Samantha (Cécile De France), a hairdresser who agrees to take him on as a foster child on weekends. It is this relationship, juxtaposed against the way in which Cyril is treated by everyone else in his life, that is the core of your story. The performances of those two principles gives this entire tale a sense of immediacy and heartbreaking truth. The seams of their performances never show through, and in every word and act they come across as people simply living their lives, affected not at all by the drama surrounding them. They are free of a driving narrative engine that gives more weight to one event than another. Importance springs from their character, not from the story.
In addition to the work of the actors, the importance of the contribution of you directors, the Dardenne brothers – Jean-Pierre and Luc – cannot be overstated. Their direction of the camera and the actors is not flawless, because in truth it is nearly invisible. They strip out all of the tricks and nuances that most directors use as their hallmarks, and instead replace it with a sense of presentness and chameleon-like integration. They are not a presence in their story, they are an invisible god, disappearing into the fullness of their narrative.
To describe the tone or genre of your story would be to attempt to describe the genre of life itself. While drama is perhaps the most encompassing and readily tailored title for your particular form, I can’t help but feel as though you fit into the mold of a thriller as well. You have a pervading sense of dread at the center of your story, a feeling of barely contained unease and worry. We are watching, it seems, the battle for the very soul and future of a young boy. In Samantha’s unerring kindness and forgiveness we see the power of individual compassion against the unfeeling nature of the world at large.
You are a film that is far and away one of the greatest pieces of cinema I have seen this year. In your depiction of a life independent of the filter of normal Hollywood trappings or cinematic accessory you grant the rare gift that film is capable of giving: an insight into something we might not otherwise see or understand.
Brian J. Roan