Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Le Gamin au Vélo (The Kid With a Bike)

PCMR Verdict: Uncomplicated, entertaining character study of an underdog kid who struggles to find his path.

PCMR Rating: 6/10

Conversational filler makes the world go round, especially in Ireland. Consider the sentence "this is it": a classic piece of conversational grout, plugging an occasional silent (potentially awkward) moment in an otherwise pleasant chat about the weather. Example: Paddy Irishman, chewing on a spud, addresses you with the gambit: "The weather's taken a turn today, hasn't it?". The correct response - "Ah, sure this is it." - is polite and deferential, will be appreciated by Paddy, and is more of a social convention than the Incorrect Responses, which include "what? who are you?", stony silence or a bitch-slap, among others.

The point here is that, although on the surface you appear to be saying very little to Paddy, what you are giving him is a familiar social convention to take the edge off a potentially awkward interaction with a stranger. Maddening as it can be to hear this phrase too often, it's providing tiny doses of social anaesthetic in this country, administered many thousands of times a day.

'Le Gamin au Vélo' is similarly deceptive. On the surface, it's a plain, slice-of-life movie, but layered into it there is real depth, subtly delivered. The relevance of this movie is in the characters' reactions to difficult events, and how we learn more about them as a result. Which, you could say, is just like real life really. But sure this is it.

PCMR has banged the drum for subtitled movies in the past, and often defended them against any number of claims from people who "wouldn't watch a subtitled movie". Top of the list of reasons for this wilful ignorance is a perception that French movies are intellectual: this is a generalisation I find difficult to understand, and 'Le Gamin au Vélo' is an example of why. If it is intellectual, it hides it under a bushel, and this makes it a likeable film.

The movie is a window into the life of a kid going through a difficult adjustment. The Kid of the title is Cyril (Thomas Doret), an orphan. As the movie begins, he's in a home, acting up a bit, and is struggling to come to terms with his father running out on him. He's fostered by Samantha (Cécile de France), who bonds with him when she finds his bike, which his deadbeat Dad had previously sold. She takes him out of the home at weekends to her own home, and he gradually gets to know the other boys in the local neighbourhood. As he starts to fall in with the wrong crowd, Samantha tries to protect him, but will she succeed, or will he go totally off the rails?

Gradually, we get an idea of Cyril's character, and how he might turn out at the end of all this. His story is not particularly epic or unusual, but it is realistic and believable, and you can't help but root for him. The kid himself (Doret) is brilliant, simply for not having any affectations, and for providing a totally realistic performance of an enigmatic, testy pre-teen.

If you are to look under the surface, 'Le Gamin au Vélo' is about Cyril becoming aware that he can choose a path. Although initially he's a victim of his father's weakness, he slowly learns, thanks in no small part to an act of kindness, that his choices can play a big part in his own fate.

I will confess to not being on familiar terms with the Dardenne Brothers' other work, although on this evidence, I would definitely watch out for them again. Be clear though folks, don't prepare for explosions or car chases, this is very uncomplicated drama. So, although the rating isn't too high for this one, I would give it a guarded recommendation, perhaps for a DVD night in. If I'm brutally honest, it might be more of a one for the movie buffs really. But sure this is it.

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