Starring: Thomas Doret, Cecile De France, Jeremie Renier
You may like this if you liked: The Class (Laurent Cantet, 2008), The Son (Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne), La Promesse (Jaen-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne)
Having no mother and after being abandoned by his father, 11 year old Cyril (Doret) is forced to live in a foster institution. He is a difficult and frustrated child and is constantly running away to find his father and his beloved bike. Due to a chance meeting, local hairdresser Samantha (De France) agrees to let him live with her. Samantha manages to track down Cyril’s bike however Cyril refuses to believe that his father sold it, and then manages to arrange a meeting with Cyril’s father Guy (Renier). The meeting however does not go as Cyril wanted and in a devastating moment of rejection Guy tells Cyril that he simply does not want to see him ever again. Cyril’s struggle to deal with this rejection and desperation for a father figure leads him to distance himself from Samantha and get involved with a local young drug dealer.
Belgian film makers the Dardenne brothers are in my opinion underrated film makers, and it is a shame that here in the UK not many are aware of their films. They manage to capture such genuine emotion from simplistic everyday stories, and I am pleased to say that The Kid with a Bike continues this with aplomb. This is indeed a simple story, but told and performed in such a genuinely affectionate and completely engaging way. We really care for these characters and want them to be happy, even though they are simply portrayed as who they exactly are with all their flaws made quite clear to see. Unknown actor Doret is a revelation as Cyril, capturing the rage, desperation and downright confusion anyone of that age in that situation would feel perfectly. De France gives an understated but emotional performance, Samantha’s motivations for taking Cyril in are never revealed, but this is a good thing.
What is an impressive achievement from the Dardennes is that they succeed where so many film makers of this kind of drama fail. They evoke sympathy and engagement from the viewer without being schmaltzy or over sentimental and therefore avoiding all the usual predictable clichés. By the time The Kid with a Bike reaches its very satisfying and cathartic conclusion I guarantee anyone watching would be enthralled and maybe have learnt a little more to appreciate the little things in life such as forgiveness and human kindness. At less than 85 minutes this film has the right pacing and character development for its story, and I personally felt that the ending was perfect. It may be initially frustrating, but after a bit of time to digest the whole story and the messages behind it, the ending feels exactly right.
In summary, a gorgeous little film that is both emotionally engaging and satisfying with two excellent performances that evoke empathy and affection. Highly recommended.