On your bike

A kid, a woman, and an old man, on bikes. Two very different films at the Curzon, which I failed to get round to reviewing last weekend. (I seem to recall a time when I would review every film I saw within a day of seeing it. What happened to that halcyon age? All work and no play etc.) So, The Kid With A Bike is a lovely Belgian film from the Dardennes brothers, whose work is constantly carried aloft at shoulder height by Sight & Sound but with which I admit I am not familiar. They seem to be interested in small-scale human stories, of which this is one, and it comes in at a lean 87 minutes: a boy, Cyril (Thomas Doret) abandoned by his selfish father is fostered by a Samaritan-like hairdresser (Cécile De France) on a nondescript but not unpretty suburban estate (it was filmed in Liège). The story follows the difficult and painful adjustment from a utopian parental model to a trickier surrogate, and yet it avoids all the obvious narrative traps.

I’ll be honest, as a regular at the Curzon, I think I have seen the trailer for The Kid With A Bike more than any other in my life. (The chain has a reasonably limited, niche-aimed bill across a handful of cinemas, and understandably likes to trail early.) By the time I finally came to see it, last weekend, I could almost literally recite the trailer. As such, the basic set-up of the story was well known to me. But although Cyril gets into a few scrapes, and bad company, the film sidesteps complete predictability. As intuitively, almost miraculously played by first-timer Doret, Cyril is neither angel nor devil; he has an adult head on 12-year-old shoulders, but he’s not precocious. This is as much a tribute to the writing and directing as the acting. De France is naturalistically captivating, too, and the sparing use of music – just one cue from a Beethoven concerto – is startling. I need to get some more Dardennes into my life. Our education never ends.

To the second film with heart in this ad hoc double bill, then. The other kid with a bike is 83. Bill Cunningham New York is a genuinely life-affirming documentary that forms a piece with last year’s timely Page One: Inside The New York Times, featuring, as it does, the paper’s long-standing fashion photographer Cunningham, who has been cycling and walking around New York since the late 70s, snapping street style as modelled by ordinary citizens, and enjoying every single minute of it.

The seniors who have been delighted by The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel should seek this out, too. It is a celebration of age and experience. Cunningham, a camp, infectiously upbeat loner and workaholic (not that he sees what he does as work), lives in a tiny studio above Carnegie Hall – a bolt-hole rammed full of filing cabinets from which our man is cruelly evicted during the filming of the documentary – and seems entirely undimmed by old age. He welcomes director Richard Press into his life, and proves anything but a fossil from a previous age. He calls everyone “child” or “kid” and that includes people in their 60s and 70s, and spreads sunlight as readily and tirelessly as he spreads flashlight.

There is a sequence towards the end of the film – another short one, at 84 minutes – during which he opens up about his private life, or lack of one, and about God, and we see tears very briefly, but he hoovers these up and the smile is soon back upon his face. It’s the kind of film where you expect its subject’s dates to come up in a caption at the end, but Cunningham lives on. Surely he must be immortal. (He seems to have achieved this by not allowing others into his life, and yet he’s been a social butterfly all along. That’s his secret: be nice to everybody and retire to a fold-out bed, alone, each night. Oh, and take the filling out of sandwiches, apparently, and don’t accept a free drink.)

My guess is that Bill Cunningham New York will turn up on TV sometime soon. Keep an eye out for it.

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