Art & Culture

The Dardenne Bros are as fine a pair of film directing brothers as you could wish for – up there with the Coens – and this, their latest film, might just help a few people see how good they are. Set in Belgium, as all their films are (though sadly not In Bruges), the story centres on a boy called Cyril whose life has only been a bed of roses insofar as he's had more than his share of thorns. Abandoned by his feckless father, he lives in a care home, angry, frustrated and desperate to reconnect with the fantasy dad whom he still idealises. Into his life comes a hairdresser called Samantha (Cecile de France) who takes him out for the day, and tries to begin to be some kind of adult friend; not so much a parent as an adviser and companion.

The path is not smooth. Fixated on the idea of a father who cares about him, contrary to all available evidence, he takes out his rage at the unfairness of the world on everyone else. His only prized possession is his bike, and that too becomes a bone of contention when it is seized by the local losers in the village where Samantha lives. As a result, he gets into bad company, and Samantha (whose boyfriend understandably dislikes having a cuckoo in his nest) has to struggle to reclaim him.

As the synopsis suggests, this is not a film that breaks new narrative ground. Troubled children and the adults who try to help them out are the staple diet of a thousand cheesy films. But the Dardennes freres are the polar opposite of cheesy. Realism (or its cinematic equivalent) is their watchword, and their account of this relationship is fresh, believable and riveting. The film is anchored by two outstanding performances from Thomas Doret as Cyril (why they have such English names is a mystery) and Cecile de France. I should acknowledge that where she is concerned, I have no critical perspective. She is utterly and divinely beautiful, and as far as I can tell, a pretty good actress, despite having been a model.

It's an excellent film, and the only obstacle to you going to see it would be a) you can't/won't read subtitles, or b) you feel deprived if a movie doesn't have special effects and/or Johnny Depp. In which case, move on; there's nothing here for you. Everyone else – go see.


Phil Raby

Front Row Films

•    Content supplied by the excellent Front Row Films website – check the site and join up for many more reviews and general all-round film goodness.