Children’s need for a father figure is a much-contested subject; for divorcing parents, only mothers are guaranteed legal custody, a policy greatly challenged by Fathers 4 Justice. Renowned for depicting characters that experience rejection, Jean-Pierre Dardenne, and brother Luc’s, latest naturalistic drama explores a child’s quest to fill a paternal hole. Abandoned by his dad, Cyril Catoul (Thomas Doret) is fostered by Samantha (Cécile De France) but his reckless and rude demeanour quickly prevents their relationship from progressing smoothly.
With a regularly changing backdrop of settings and authority figures, Cyril’s bike remains the only constant in his life, providing a sense of stability, while the frequent theft of it mirrors his inability to hold on to something definite. The title emphasises the importance of simple, even minimal, consistency in children’s lives, especially for those who’ve been treated badly by people they admire, respect and love. The other constant is Cyril’s unwavering faith in his father, however, the Dardennes gradually strip this away, exposing the naïve and scared child hiding beneath the wild acting out. This allows the audience to realise that however outlandish a troubled youngster’s conduct may be, a heightened sense of empathy is needed rather than the short-sighted act of punishment.
The Dardennes deftly juxtapose Cyril’s hardship against his rudeness, pressuring viewers to consider both ends of the foster-care spectrum. This eliminates possible thoughts of “but she lets him behave terribly” or “I could do a better job” and exposes the fact that the unique circumstances/needs of the child should always be considered. What the Dardennes have created is an intelligent and thought-provoking insight into the detrimental effects that the lack of a patriarchal figure can have on kids, but more importantly, a film which champions and salutes the continued altruistic efforts of those who voluntarily care for them.
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