The movies of Dardenne brothers are usually not my glass of wine. Their festival-oriented slice-of-life approach, with lots of back-view shots never interested me that much, not just because of the basic style of the movies, but also because their films usually didn’t function on the most important levels – story, characters and ideas. They did experiment with it, for example adding a religious symbolism that functions to an extent in ‘Le fils’. But ‘Le gamin au vélo‘ functions on every level, so much that I would call it an almost perfect movie. It have strong and potent story, brilliantly written and acted multi-layered characters and is filled with genuine non-forced emotions.
The story revolves around a boy Cyril (played by Thomas Doret) and his attempts to reconcile with his father Guy (Jérémie Renier) who abandoned him without a trace of wish to accept him as a part of his life (he is “in search of himself“). The only positive figure in Cyril’s life is Samantha (played by Cécile de France, we know her for her great role in Alexandre Aja’s brilliant horror film ‘Haute Tension’) who cares for him, lets him stay with her during the weekends and tries to reconnect the boy with his father.
First thing that needs to be said is that the cast is perfect and the handling of the difficult subject is never forced or pathetic. The scenes between boy and his (terrible) father and between boy and Samantha are handled with layered understanding of drama and human condition, without being overt in any way. It reminded me a lot of my favourite movie ‘Stand by Me’ (which is a better movie, but ‘Le gamin au vélo’ comes close to its achievements) with similar non-intrusive but highly effective approach to basic and most important moments in the lives of children, during the breaking periods in their life. Just like in ‘Stand by Me’, there is no oversentimentality here, no forced “sad“ music or telegraphing to us what to feel or think. We see enough information to form our opinion about the characters and to go from there, but we are not forced in any of that. I watched ‘Le gamin au vélo’ in tears every time, especially during the displays of love and affection that kid feels for his selfish father, and while I knew what will be the outcome of that, I never felt a single trace of cheating or pathetic during these key scenes.
The characters are layered and the father is not presented as some one dimensional ready-made character, because he is very much real and based on many similar horrible characters from real life. Thomas Doret as Cyril succeeded in portraying one of the most complete characters in modern European cinema (kids and adults included). The way he talks, walks, runs, drives his bike (another symbolic connection with his absent father), moves constanly in search of an answer in the cruel world that opens up before his eyes – simply magnificent. Cécile de France (one of the best and most overlooked current French actresses) is great as expected, this time playing the caring mother, the only hope in Cyril’s dark life.
Religious symbolism is again present but is never forced (almost invisible) and connects naturally with the rest of the movie.
‘Le gamin au vélo’ is a modern masterpiece of Belgian and European cinema and it have my biggest recommendation.