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The Kid With a Bike

Belgian filmmakers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne—popularly known as "the Dardenne brothers"—make genuine cinematic parables. By "parable" I mean films about ordinary or mundane circumstances which have no ostensible religious or sacred element, yet prove to provoke a sense of the transcendent, what philosopher Paul Ricoeur calls "the fantastic of the everyday." The Dardennes' unconventional filmmaking style of handheld camerawork, elliptical editing techniques, and neo-realist use of real-life urban settings and non-professional or lesser-known actors all give us a sense of documentary realism, as if the camera just happened to stumble upon these stories in the urban margins of post-industrial Seraing and Liège.

In The Kid with a Bike, we follow Cyril (Thomas Doret), an angry 11-year-old boy who is nearly always in motion. Whether due to his circumstances of part of his nature, Cyril has a rambunctious and defiant spirit. Having been abandoned by his father to the local orphanage, he is constantly on the run in a search for belonging, causing him to collide with Samantha (Cécile de France), a warmhearted hairdresser who compassionately takes Cyril into her home. Cyril’s habits of fleeing or fighting don’t magically disappear with this newfound relationship with Samantha. He injures her, both emotionally and physically. Why does she continue to extend grace to this defiant young man? Why does she even bother to let him into her life and her heart? Cyril openly demands these questions from her, and she can offer only a quiet shrug: she doesn’t know. We are not given clear reasons for her grace; we only know that grace is. In this way, The Kid with a Bike is like The 400 Blows meets Bicycle Thieves meets the infinite mercy of God. Indeed, at the time of filming, Luc Dardenne was writing a short book of philosophy on the "death of God" and how humanity finds its way in our apparently disenchanted world. He proposes what he calls the "infinite love of the mother" through the face-to-face encounter with the Other, a Levinasian ethical demand of responsibility and care. This "infinite love" is perfectly embodied in the character of Samantha, who could be considered both a Marian and a Christ figure in her radical self-sacrificial love for a troubled boy searching for a sense of Home.

The Dardennes' films have featured prominently on the Arts & Faith Top 100 every year since its iteration: Le Fils (The Son) was ranked #9 in 2005, #2 in 2006, #5 in 2010, and #8 in 2011; La Promesse (The Promise) has been ranked #32 (2005), #24 (2006), #44 (2010), and #20 (2011). Their two Palme d'Or-winning films have been present: Rosetta was #1 on the 2005 list, then #33 (2006) and #82 (2010); L'Enfant (The Child) was #27 (2010) and #46 (2011). Finally, Le Silence de Lorna (Lorna’s Silence) was #67 (2010). I share these stats because they're indicative of how "spiritually significant" the Dardennes' films truly are—it's difficult to pick only one film to represent their work, as every one of their nine major films since 1996 are worthy of consideration and inclusion on this list. Yet The Kid with a Bike is perhaps one of the more affecting of the Dardennes' films, inviting us to consider the characters with rich empathy and leaving us gasping in wonder at the climactic (possible) miracle we witness.

–Joel Mayward (Cinemayward.com)

Belgian filmmakers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne—popularly known as "the Dardenne brothers"—make genuine cinematic parables. By "parable" I mean films about ordinary or mundane circumstances which have no ostensible religious or sacred element, yet prove to provoke a sense of the transcendent, what philosopher Paul Ricoeur calls "the fantastic of the everyday." The Dardennes' unconventional filmmaking style of handheld camerawork, elliptical editing techniques, and neo-realist use of real-life urban settings and non-professional or lesser-known actors all give us a sense of documentary realism, as if the camera just happened to stumble upon these stories in the urban margins of post-industrial Seraing and Liège.

In The Kid with a Bike, we follow Cyril (Thomas Doret), an angry 11-year-old boy who is nearly always in motion. Whether due to his circumstances of part of his nature, Cyril has a rambunctious and defiant spirit. Having been abandoned by his father to the local orphanage, he is constantly on the run in a search for belonging, causing him to collide with Samantha (Cécile de France), a warmhearted hairdresser who compassionately takes Cyril into her home. Cyril’s habits of fleeing or fighting don’t magically disappear with this newfound relationship with Samantha. He injures her, both emotionally and physically. Why does she continue to extend grace to this defiant young man? Why does she even bother to let him into her life and her heart? Cyril openly demands these questions from her, and she can offer only a quiet shrug: she doesn’t know. We are not given clear reasons for her grace; we only know that grace is. In this way, The Kid with a Bike is like The 400 Blows meets Bicycle Thieves meets the infinite mercy of God. Indeed, at the time of filming, Luc Dardenne was writing a short book of philosophy on the "death of God" and how humanity finds its way in our apparently disenchanted world. He proposes what he calls the "infinite love of the mother" through the face-to-face encounter with the Other, a Levinasian ethical demand of responsibility and care. This "infinite love" is perfectly embodied in the character of Samantha, who could be considered both a Marian and a Christ figure in her radical self-sacrificial love for a troubled boy searching for a sense of Home.

The Dardennes' films have featured prominently on the Arts & Faith Top 100 every year since its iteration: Le Fils (The Son) was ranked #9 in 2005, #2 in 2006, #5 in 2010, and #8 in 2011; La Promesse (The Promise) has been ranked #32 (2005), #24 (2006), #44 (2010), and #20 (2011). Their two Palme d'Or-winning films have been present: Rosetta was #1 on the 2005 list, then #33 (2006) and #82 (2010); L'Enfant (The Child) was #27 (2010) and #46 (2011). Finally, Le Silence de Lorna (Lorna’s Silence) was #67 (2010). I share these stats because they're indicative of how "spiritually significant" the Dardennes' films truly are—it's difficult to pick only one film to represent their work, as every one of their nine major films since 1996 are worthy of consideration and inclusion on this list. Yet The Kid with a Bike is perhaps one of the more affecting of the Dardennes' films, inviting us to consider the characters with rich empathy and leaving us gasping in wonder at the climactic (possible) miracle we witness.

–Joel Mayward (Cinemayward.com)

Belgian filmmakers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne—popularly known as "the Dardenne brothers"—make genuine cinematic parables. By "parable" I mean films about ordinary or mundane circumstances which have no ostensible religious or sacred element, yet prove to provoke a sense of the transcendent, what philosopher Paul Ricoeur calls "the fantastic of the everyday." The Dardennes' unconventional filmmaking style of handheld camerawork, elliptical editing techniques, and neo-realist use of real-life urban settings and non-professional or lesser-known actors all give us a sense of documentary realism, as if the camera just happened to stumble upon these stories in the urban margins of post-industrial Seraing and Liège.

In The Kid with a Bike, we follow Cyril (Thomas Doret), an angry 11-year-old boy who is nearly always in motion. Whether due to his circumstances of part of his nature, Cyril has a rambunctious and defiant spirit. Having been abandoned by his father to the local orphanage, he is constantly on the run in a search for belonging, causing him to collide with Samantha (Cécile de France), a warmhearted hairdresser who compassionately takes Cyril into her home. Cyril’s habits of fleeing or fighting don’t magically disappear with this newfound relationship with Samantha. He injures her, both emotionally and physically. Why does she continue to extend grace to this defiant young man? Why does she even bother to let him into her life and her heart? Cyril openly demands these questions from her, and she can offer only a quiet shrug: she doesn’t know. We are not given clear reasons for her grace; we only know that grace is. In this way, The Kid with a Bike is like The 400 Blows meets Bicycle Thieves meets the infinite mercy of God. Indeed, at the time of filming, Luc Dardenne was writing a short book of philosophy on the "death of God" and how humanity finds its way in our apparently disenchanted world. He proposes what he calls the "infinite love of the mother" through the face-to-face encounter with the Other, a Levinasian ethical demand of responsibility and care. This "infinite love" is perfectly embodied in the character of Samantha, who could be considered both a Marian and a Christ figure in her radical self-sacrificial love for a troubled boy searching for a sense of Home.

The Dardennes' films have featured prominently on the Arts & Faith Top 100 every year since its iteration: Le Fils (The Son) was ranked #9 in 2005, #2 in 2006, #5 in 2010, and #8 in 2011; La Promesse (The Promise) has been ranked #32 (2005), #24 (2006), #44 (2010), and #20 (2011). Their two Palme d'Or-winning films have been present: Rosetta was #1 on the 2005 list, then #33 (2006) and #82 (2010); L'Enfant (The Child) was #27 (2010) and #46 (2011). Finally, Le Silence de Lorna (Lorna’s Silence) was #67 (2010). I share these stats because they're indicative of how "spiritually significant" the Dardennes' films truly are—it's difficult to pick only one film to represent their work, as every one of their nine major films since 1996 are worthy of consideration and inclusion on this list. Yet The Kid with a Bike is perhaps one of the more affecting of the Dardennes' films, inviting us to consider the characters with rich empathy and leaving us gasping in wonder at the climactic (possible) miracle we witness.

–Joel Mayward (Cinemayward.com)


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