Wednesday, 4 April 2012

'The Kid With A Bike' review:

I'm fast falling out of love with slow, mostly eventless cinema and though this is not the fault of the Dardenne Brothers' overpraised 'The Kid With A Bike', it is that film which will suffer from the backlash for now - being the straw that broke this proverbial camel's back. What used to feel refreshing and in no small way revelatory now seems overly slight and uninspiring. I'm talking about the banal scenes in which we are cast as curtain-twitching voyeurs as people chat about what to have for lunch, or the sustained tracking shots that say "we're doing this because we can" and increasingly little else. The things I used to admire which now feel every bit as tired and cliche as the Hollywood tropes they once stood in bold opposition to.

As I said at the top, 'Bike' isn't the worst offender in these regards (or even close for that matter). On another day I might have lauded 'The Kid With A Bike' as patient, well-observed and sensitively acted. The Dardenne's don't judge their characters and the film is redemptive and life-affirming without being sickly. Young Thomas Doret is superb as the titular kid, wounded and out of control 11 year-old Cyril, whilst Cecil de France is winsome as his foster mother. The Belgian Jeremy Renner (Jeremie Renier) - the ubiquitous Euro star who first found fame with the Dardennes in such films as 'The Promise' and 'The Child' - is ever-reliable as the deadbeat father who abandons his son. It's not even that the film outstays its welcome: it's only 87 minutes long. Perfect running length in a world in which movies seem to feel obliged to exceed two hours.

Yet with its very slender plot (a boy is left frustrated and angry after being abandoned by his father and takes this out on his foster carers, stropping around and being a nuisance) there is nothing here to suggest 'Bike' wouldn't have been equally effective over a half hour. In fact, even given that the film's two or three moments of action are stretched out, the boy's last act change of character seems contrived - the resolution, for all the filmmakers cumbersome attempts at last-minute jeopardy, feels all too tidy. And in having Cyril succumb to the lure of a gang of PlayStation 3 and Fanta obsessed local criminals (the suburban Belgian mafia, as I like to call them), is the film suggesting a boy will turn to armed robbery if bereft of a strong father figure? Take that single mothers!

I am more than aware that I'm being a little unfair on the gentle and well intentioned 'The Kid With A Bike', but I guess how you feel heading into a film - about life or cinema - has an effect you can't possibly hope to separate from the experience itself. It probably didn't help that I saw it right off the back of another, longer and even more tiresome movie, which left me resentful of the time I'd spent sitting in the dark on what was a beautiful, sunny day. On another day, who knows? But right now I feel inclined to blow petulant raspberries in its direction.

'The Kid With A Bike' is out now in the UK, rated '12A' by the BBFC.

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