Review of The Kid With a Bike by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardennes
By CHRISTIAN HAMAKER
You know the situation in the first few minutes of the film. It’s all there, etched on the face of a young boy. If you’re a parent, you might pick up on his determination bordering on desperation.
The young boy is Cyril (Thomas Doret), and he wants to talk to his father. He wants his bike. He’s in a group home, but he’s determined to get out. He breaks free and ends up briefly in the arms of Samantha (Cecile de France), a hairdresser who responds, for reasons that are never fully explained, by bringing the boy into her home and serving as a guardian of sorts for her young charge.
It’s Samantha who provides the support that the boy’s irresponsible dad (Jeremie Renier) wants no part of. And when Cyril is befriended by a local hoodlum and lured into criminal activity, it’s Samantha who tries to protect him from being taken advantage of by the local thug.
The Kid With a Bike is a moral drama from Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardennes, Belgian filmmakers who regularly win awards at the annual Cannes Film Festival in France. Their films, like La Promesse and The Son, tell small-scale but intimate and moving stories. The Kid With a Bike is their most affecting film yet. That’s saying a lot, for while the filmmakers are often described as “humane” (and accurately so), they also were raised Catholic and suffuse their films with Christian ideas and specific Christian symbolism.
Author Frederic Bonnaud notes that the filmmakers have compared “the moment when Cyril and Samantha run into each other, causing an impassioned bond to form, to a ‘reverse Pietà.’ This isn’t an acknowledgement of their possible Christian faith but an invaluable indication of the principal source of their fictional and formal inspiration: the inexhaustible body of Christian tales and their iconography,” Bonnaud continues. “In saving [Cyril], [Samantha] commits herself fully to an act that is irreducible and mysterious.”
There it is: “mysterious.” How many “Christian” films have you seen that can be described as mysterious? Can we, as Christians, handle—even appreciate—films that are suggestive and open to interpretation rather than didactic and preachy? Which films should Christians watch and discuss? Should we desire films that aren’t targeted specifically to us, but which are deeply moral and even specifically Christian in their underlying message?
The truth is that even many fans of the Dardennes don’t recognize the filmmakers’ religious influences at work in their films. They appreciate the artistry of the cinematic storytelling, likely without realizing the way Christian concepts are insinuating themselves into their consciousness—even if the filmmakers themselves don’t refer to themselves as Christians.
The international acclaim that the Dardennes have received is a sign that Christian filmmaking—films with Christian messages and Christian symbolism, although not always made by self-professed believers—is alive and well. It’s just not always marketed as such. Do you think films can speak to your faith without being actively marketed as “Christian entertainment”? Go see The Kid With a Bike, or rent La Promesse or The Son, and see.