From Belgian directing duo Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, comes a rich tale about a young boy, Cyril (Thomas Doret), on a quest to reconnect with his father, Guy (Jérémie Renier, a Dardenne regular). Cyril is staying at a children’s institution when he learns that his father is gone and is unreachable. His innocent naivety shows in his stubborn determination to reach his father, bordering almost on religious fanaticism. He is convinced that his father wouldn’t abandon him, nor would he, as he is told by one of the home’s counselors, sell Cyril’s bike. Whether it is to call the apartment where they used to live (several times), contact the superintendent of their old building, escape the counselors to flee to the apartment complex during recess, and taking a bus back to it, and even lie to a nurse working the medical clinic on the first floor to gain access, this tenacity is readily apparent. While being chased by the counselors, the superintendent finally agrees to let Cyril see the apartment he confronts the stark reality that he refused to accept from the adults around him.
Looking around at the empty rooms, the faded, peeling walls, the sense of loss Cyril feels is palpable. As he’s beckoned by the director to return to the children’s home, he bolts past them, Fleeing to the clinic on the ground floor, to the nurse he lied to earlier. When the adults come to confront him, he refuses to return with them. A struggle ensues in which Cyril is wrestled to the floor, where he knocks into a young hairdresser in the waiting area, Samantha (Cécile de France), and in a fit of fervent emotion grabs hold of her. The adults plead with him to come back with them and to let the woman go, but Cyril cannot be consoled and only squeezes tighter. “You can hold me,” Samantha says, “but not so tight.” This seemingly out of place acceptance of the embrace of a stranger gives Samantha an immediate angelic quality. She doesn’t rudely shove the child off, into the arms of the counselors, but calmly receives the boy’s hug. Cyril is eventually removed from Samantha and convinced to return with the counselors.
Yet, even as Cyril leaves, Samantha returns, drawing the two closer together. First, she retrieves his bicycle, after Cyril’s own failed attempt to track it down, hoping it would lead to his father. Later, after Cyril requests to stay with Samantha on weekends, she joins him in his search for his missing father. Slowly, they forge a bond that grows, only to deepen as their journey together brings them toward some startling realizations about love, family, forgiveness, and redemption.
2011 Cannes Film Festival: Grand Prix Ex-aequo.(Belgium, 2011) French Language 87 min.
Article by James T. Burns