The film “The Kid With a Bike” is Friday’s other release featuring a forceful young protagonist navigating scarily perilous terrain, and Belgian non-blockbuster specialists Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne have delivered a winner.
Centering on an angry abandoned boy who finds hope with a caring stranger, the film is a sentimentality-free, beautifully spun story of conscience and kindness.
Known for harsher fare such as “La Promesse” and “The Child,” the Dardennes have released their sunniest offering to date, but in no way have the brothers gone soft.
The neorealist tones, Dickensian subjects and trademark Dardenne themes of moral dilemmas and lousy fathers still exist. The ending is ambiguous, but with an upbeat tone.
Eleven-year-old Cyril (Thomas Doret) escapes from a Belgian children’s home and feverishly searches for the deadbeat father who left him there, and for his bicycle.
Pursued by authorities, Cyril grabs onto a stranger, a hairdresser named Samantha (Cecile de France). Samantha takes an interest in Cyril’s welfare, finds his bike, and lets Cyril stay with her on weekends.
Samantha also helps Cyril locate his dad (played by Dardenne alum Jeremie Renier), who rejects the boy. Desperate for a father figure, Cyril falls in with a slick thug (Egon Di Mateo). Samantha, meanwhile, struggles to keep Cyril on a constructive path as Cyril approaches his crossroads.
Even by Dardenne standards, the story is sparely plotted, and it’s a bit too slight to be a knockout.
Additionally, the decision to provide no clue to what drives Samantha’s benevolence can be frustrating. Played by the well-known, capable de France, Samantha is a significant presence. We want to know more.
But clearly, Cyril is the focus, and the Dardennes are making not a Hollywood story of a dedicated mentor and a troubled kid enriching each other but rather, as they’ve described it, a “kind of fairy tale” in which Samantha “appears as a kind of fairy.”
Carrying out this aim with their accomplished brand of realist storytelling, they’ve delivered a quietly suspenseful and affecting human drama and an engrossing look at a child’s moral sensibilities, shaped by betrayal on the dark side and kindness on the bright end, crystallizing.
In the key role of Cyril, newcomer Doret is a commanding blend of feral physicality and mental determination as he pedals, runs, climbs, and fights anyone trying to thwart him in his nebulously understood but all-consuming search for love and direction.
Sporting a red shirt, and featured in lengthy tracking shots, he gives the movie poetic action. Close up, his worthiness inspires viewers to realize, without being tear-jerked, what is at stake.
The film also features a cameo by Dardenne regular Olivier Gourmet and, new for the Dardennes, music on the soundtrack.