Telluride 2011: Cannes' Grand Prix Winner 'The Kid With a Bike' Continues to Impress

The Belgian film has a strong shot at an Oscar nod for best foreign-language film.
Courtesy of Wild Bunch

On Monday afternoon, shortly before leaving Telluride and heading back east, I caught The Kid with a Bike, a film by the Belgian brothers Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne that won the Grand Prix award at Cannes -- where the duo have previously won the Palme d’Or twice, for Rosetta (1999) and The Child (2005) -- and which strikes me as a strong contender to score a best foreign-language film Oscar nod if Belgium decides to submit it as its entry.

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The film, which will be distributed stateside by Sundance Selects (a release date has not yet been announced), reminds me a lot of some of the finest examples of Italian neo-realism -- not least of all, and perhaps not coincidentally, The Bicycle Thief (1948) -- in that it takes a simple story about everyday life, depicts it in an unsentimental and visually beautiful way, and manages to provoke tremendous emotional investment from its audience.

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The plot revolves around 11-year-old Cyril, who is played by Thomas Doret, a young actor who looks like the late Jackie Cooper did in Skippy (1931) -- for which Cooper became the youngest person to ever receive a best actor Oscar nomination -- and gives a comparably compelling child performance. Cyril wants desperately to be reunited with his father (who he cannot believe has placed him in a foster home) and his beloved bicycle (which he refuses to believe his father would have sold).

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In due time, though, he learns that indeed his father does not want him any longer and has sold his bicycle, leaving him devastated and prompting him to act out even more than usual. During one episode in which he runs away from the foster home, he has a chance encounter with a local hairdresser (lovely Cecile de France from Hereafter) which sparks a special bond that leads to the return of his bike -- the only thing that seems to provide him with a sense of happiness and freedom -- and the start of an important new phase in his life.

Quietly moving films like this one have done very well in the best foreign language film Oscar category in recent years -- see Japan's Departures (2008) for but one example -- so I wouldn't bet against it becoming a key player in the race.