Left: Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, The Kid with a Bike, 2011, color film in 35 mm, 87 minutes. Production still. Cyril (Thomas Doret). Right: Markus Schleinzer, Michael, 2011, color film in 35 mm.

CANNES, NOTORIOUSLY, is an event of extreme incongruities, which are nowhere more apparent than during the Competition red carpet screenings at the Lumière Theater. Every movie, no matter how austere or ghastly its subject matter, receives the same tacky treatment: An announcer fervently calls off the names not only of the film’s cast and crew but also those of any celebrities—usually on the C-list, or lower—as they march up the Lumière steps to a medley of deafening American and Euro pop. Only in Cannes could you hear, as I did while racing to find the press queue for Markus Schleinzer’s Michael, Tina Turner’s “What’s Love Got to Do With It” before a film about a thirty-five-year-old pedophile who keeps a ten-year-old boy locked in his basement. Just a few yards away, lithe young men and women dressed all in white offered to give free hugs.

Schleinzer’s first film maintains an impressive tonal assurance despite its appalling topic; both the criminal (Michael Fuith) and his prisoner (David Rauchenberger) are precisely observed. Michael continues the festival’s dominant theme so far: children who are monstrous (We Need to Talk About Kevin) or the monstrous things that are done to them (Polisse). The Kid with a Bike by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, who are vying for an unprecedented third Palme d’Or, straddles both categories. Cyril (Thomas Doret), the ginger-headed eleven-year-old of the title, earns the nickname “Pitbull” from the thugs who live near his Belgian housing estate, but his ferocity is justified: The boy’s father (played by Dardenne veteran Jérémie Renier) tells Cyril, who’s spent days desperately trying to track him down, that he never wants to see him again; Dad confides to Cyril’s foster parent that his only child “stresses him out.” Though the structuring of the Dardennes’ latest seems both too schematic and haphazard, their young star, in his first screen role, joins the most impressive on-screen talents seen at Cannes this year: those who are years away from getting a driver’s license.

Melissa Anderson