TIFF Journal: ‘The Kid with a Bike’

Belgian filmmakers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne are frequent favorites at the Cannes Film Festival. They’ve been nominated for the coveted Palme d’Or prize five times so far, and have won twice (for ‘Rosetta’ in 1999 and ‘L’enfant’ in 2005). The brothers’ new Neorealist drama ‘The Kid with a Bike’ scored the Cannes Grand Jury Prize earlier this year, and arrived at TIFF to some rapturous critics’ reviews and a lot of buzz among attendees. All of this attention and hype almost seem disproportionate to a movie made with such modest ambitions.

‘The Kid with a Bike’ is a very small, delicate story about a young boy whose mother has died and whose cold-hearted father has abandoned him to an orphanage and moved away without even bothering to tell him. The boy is too naïve to understand such selfish behavior, and assumes that some huge mistake has occurred to take his father away from him. He refuses to believe his caretakers or teachers at the orphanage, the superintendent of his old apartment building, or any other adult figure who tries to explain to him that his dad is basically a jerk. Against all of their wishes, he searches day after day to find his missing father.

This puts him in the orbit of an adult woman (Cécil De France, from ‘Hereafter‘) who feels sympathy for him and agrees to take care of him on the weekends. She doesn’t fully understand why she’s so drawn to this child, but she knows that helping him is the right thing to do. Unfortunately, this decision causes some strife with her boyfriend. The kid also starts hanging around with a bad crowd – who are essentially the only friends he’s ever had, and for whom he’s very eager to please – which will cause some unexpected and unwanted repercussions for him.

However, there’s no great melodramatic tragedy here. This is simply a well-observed character piece. The performances, especially young Thomas Doret’s, are very naturalistic. The Dardennes direct with a carefully-modulated sense of tone. One quite refreshing aspect of the film is the way that the script sets up what appear to be familiar and predictable story pathways, only to carefully (without any particular revelation or twist) work its way out of them in a manner that always feels plausible and real.

For all that, I feel that the movie has been over-hyped a bit, at least in the context of film festival coverage. More than one critic writing about TIFF called it a masterpiece. I wouldn’t go that far. It’s a very nice, charming and touching film, but it doesn’t exactly reinvent cinema. Of course, it never set out to. Nor does it need to.

Rating: ★★★★☆


  1. Jane Morgan

    You seem to rate these festival films higher than most Hollywood movies.

    Is this political? Or does your personal taste skew indie?

    Is there a way to search the HDD review database by critic?

    • Josh Zyber

      I wouldn’t say that. I gave Luc Besson’s new movie a bad review, and scored a couple of others as only “pretty good.” I have another review left to write for a movie I was rather disappointed with. I don’t feel that I saw any masterpiece-level films this year.

      As for your other question, the site’s Blu-ray review index is here:


      While not sortable, you can search for names. Some of us also have personal bio pages linked from the names on that page.

      • Jane Morgan

        Are there movies you rate as 2 Stars, that you own? Are there movies you rate as 5 Stars, that you will never buy?

        ‘The Kid With A Bike’ you feel is 4 Stars.

        Does that mean you will buy it on blu-ray, for your personal collection?

        I’m wondering if review scores are purely about craftsmanship, or if they’re influenced by genre-love, the audience you see the film with, or the story’s rewatchability?

        • Josh Zyber

          I own a number of movies that I would consider 2-stars but are guilty pleasures for me.

          In the case of this movie, my rating is based primarily on artistry. However, I doubt it would have a lot of rewatchability for me. I don’t think I need to buy it on Blu-ray.

  2. Great review, Josh. Have you seen “L’Enfant”? It’s very raw, very realistic and very good. An example of its realism (and I know it’s a very stupid one): the main character dials a number and it takes AT LEAST 4 rings before the respondee answers. That’s the way it is in real life. In movies, it almost never is. And it annoys me.

    I could send you the DVD (it’s not on Blu-ray for the time being) if you have a Region 2-compatible machine!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *