The Kid With a Bike (2011)

Planet of Snail (2011)

Tales of the Night (2011)

A terrific batch of home-video releases — all foreign titles, but don’t let that put you off.

My No. 1 film of 2012 was The Kid With a Bike, from the Dardennes, the Belgian filmmaking brothers whose work was recently honored by the Vatican with the Robert Bresson Prize, which is given to filmmakers whose work attests the search for spiritual meaning in life.

The film tells a simple, moving story about a needy boy’s search for his father’s love; 12-year-old Cyril searches the city, looking for his absentee father, randomly encountering a hairdresser (Cecile de France) whose unexplained responsiveness to his needs is at the heart of the film’s moral vision.

The absence of Cyril’s father invites other social forces to fill the vacuum, notably a street gang offering an alternative "family" to boys like Cyril. Despite elements of grim realism, the film is pervaded by hope and mercy.

Also on my "top 10" list, Planet of Snail is the year’s gentlest, most-inspiring love story, a quietly powerful Korean documentary about a remarkable marriage. He’s blind and deaf; she has a form of dwarfism. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, their rapport is striking; they seem to embody the mystery of "one flesh" in a singular way as they engage in recreation, study, household tasks and church activities.

The title reflects the poetic sensibilities of the husband, an accomplished writer and poet: He says blind-deaf people have "souls of astronauts" (because of their isolation) and come from "Snail Planet" (because of their reliance on touch). If he’s a snail, she’s his shell, his home.

Finally, Tales of the Night, from French animator Michel Ocelot, is a winsome anthology film collecting global fantastic fables, all rendered in a striking computer-animated style evoking shadow puppetry. Each vignette involves a young man in some way vying for a princess’ heart, along with assorted fantastic creatures and monsters.

The tales aren’t all equally satisfying, and some are a bit dark. Still, the gorgeous animation and multicultural flavor make for worthwhile family fare.


Content Advisory: The Kid With a Bike: Troubled family situation; brief violence; drug references; an obscene word. Teens and up. Planet of Snail: Nothing problematic, but not really for kids. Tales of the Night: Some scary or disturbing elements; stylized representation of ethnographic nudity in the African story. Older kids and up.