(director/writer: Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne; cinematographer: Alain Marcoen; editor: Marie-Hélène Dozo; cast: Cécile de France (Samantha), Thomas Doret (Cyril), Jérémie Renier (Guy Catoul), Laurent Caron (Gilles),Valentin Jacob (Martin Surlet ), Fabrizio Rongione (Mr. Surlet, Newsagent), Egon Di Mateo (Wes); Runtime: 87; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Jean-Pierre/Luc Dardenne/Denis Freyd; Sundance Selects; 2011-France-in French with English subtitles)

“A frank, no-nonsense drama filled with compassion for a lost soul kid abandoned by his father.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The film won the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes in 2011. It’s co-directed and co-written by the brothers from Belgium, Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne (“La Promesse”/ “Rosetta”/”The Son”). It’s a frank, no-nonsense drama filled with compassion and concern for a lost soul kid abandoned by his father. It takes on the form of a fairy tale, as it binds the moralistic tale with a search for love and redemption.

In a small-town in provincial France, the 11-year-old Cyril (Thomas Doret) has been placed by social services in a foster home by a deadbeat father, Guy Catoul (Jérémie Renier), who no longer wants him (there’s no mention of the kid’s mother). Cyril finds it difficult to believe his dad would abandon him, especially since he just bought him a bike, and runs away from the school to locate his dad. At his father’s home he learns the hard way that his father abandoned him, and while running from the school counselors he ducks into a medical office. There he clutched onto a waiting patient, the young hairdresser Samantha (Cécile de France), who takes an interest in his plight and buys back the bike dad sold and returns it to Cyril–still unable to grasp that his dad sold the bike. The troubled kid asks if he can stay with Samantha on weekends and when she agrees, the school director gives his permission.

The emotionally disturbed kid gets to see his dad, as Samantha hunts him down. But his feckless dad, just starting work as restaurant prepper, doesn’t want the kid, as he has money problems and wants to start over on his own. The needy Kid is bewildered by being abandoned and when the local youthful thugs steal his bike and call him “pitbull” when he ferociously goes after Wes (Egon Di Mateo), the thief and leader of the gang, who lures the vulnerable naive kid into their gang by accepting him as one of them. But this friendship soon proves to be false, and the innocent kid, who is willing to do anything to gain a father’s love, finds himself in a jam that only the saintly hairdresser, who sacrificed her relationship with her boyfriend over the kid, can help him with her unconditional love to get through this difficult time of loss and being charged with a serious crime against a newsagent.

Though on the surface it appears to be a simplistic film, nevertheless it has layers of complexity in questioning the roles of fathers in teaching proper values, the morality lessons given by dads, of dads raising their children no matter their circumstances and of how difficult it is for an abandoned child to ever feel secure again. It’s a film that makes you think of why there’s so much youthful crime and of how odd it is for a stranger to show more love to a child than his real parent.