Review: ‘The Kid with a Bike’

April 6, 2012, 12:59 a.m.

In “The Kid with a Bike,” directing duo Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne present a vivid snapshot of lower-class urban life in their native Belgium through the eyes of the precocious young protagonist. True to the brothers’ naturalistic, documentary style, the film’s simple yet poignant story manages to pack a powerful emotional punch while still leaving many questions unanswered.


Having been abandoned in foster care by his father, twelve year-old Cyril (Thomas Doret) is an insolent and unruly ward. Refusing to accept that his father is not coming back for him as promised, Cyril ditches school and evades his counselors in his efforts to return to his former home, an apartment complex where he encounters the good-natured but no-nonsense hairdresser Samantha (Cécile De France). Touched by Cyril’s vulnerability, she tracks down his treasured bicycle, the only remaining link the boy has to his absent father.


Cyril cuts a lonely figure biking around his old neighborhood, aimlessly looking for signs of his father until Wes (Egon Di Mateo), a small-time drug dealer, decides to take him under his wing. Despite Samantha’s warnings, Cyril easily falls under the older boy’s sway, seduced by the attention that he never received growing up. But as Wes’ influence grows, Cyril is forced to choose between him and Samantha, the one person who has ever offered him a true home.


Doret gives a candidly innocent performance in his feature film debut, infusing Cyril with both the outward defiance and quiet desperation of a newly orphaned child. And because the camera rarely gazes directly upon his face, choosing instead to follow alongside or behind Cyril as he traverses the city, the rendition is equal measures dialogue and body language.


In anyone else’s hands the film could easily feel dull and uninspired, but thanks to the Dardennes’ fast-paced editing and close framing, it becomes a raw emotional journey. Their ability to make the most out of little, both visually and in the narrative, is a true testament to minimalist filmmaking. Fluid shots of Cyril gliding across the pavement on his bike are interspersed with moments of stillness and silence that speak louder than words, like the young boy’s hunched shoulders in response to the emptiness of the apartment he once shared with his father.


The Dardennes are so adept at pulling you in that all the questions that should have manifested immediately won’t catch up with you until after the credits roll. Where is Cyril’s mother? Why is the father so bent on starting over without his son? Although the plot gets resolved, all that remains unaddressed serves as a reminder that the film is merely a cross-section of these characters’ intricate lives in which past and future stubbornly remain nebulous.


A tender story about life’s misfortunes and finding personal meaning in a harsh and sometimes unforgiving world, “The Kid with a Bike” is a film that lingers and, even rarer for this time of year, instills a sense of wonderment.

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