The Kid With a Bike 12/04/19 2:50
The title character is an eleven-year-old boy named Cyril, played by Thomas Doret, yet another of the Dardennes' great child actor discoveries. The film opens with Cyril trying to reach his father by phone—it's evident that his dad has moved and not left word about where he's gone, and it soon becomes clear that Cyril has been left in an orphanage. We never know what happened to the mother, but Cyril is absolutely determined to reestablish contact with his father, and the first step is to run away and go to his dad's former residence, where he hopes to at least find the bicycle that he'd left there. He does, and a chance encounter with a young woman, a hairdresser named Samantha played by Cécile de France, leads to her agreeing to let Cyril stay with her on weekends. She is a very wise, compassionate and patient woman who quickly grows fond of the troubled Cyril, but his one desire remains—to find and reestablish a relationship with his father. Unfortunately, as we soon can guess, the father doesn't want him.
The usual methods of the Dardenne brothers are in evidence, including the hand-held camera following the main character's relentless movement. But watching, I realized something new about their films. The Dardennes don't focus on trying to get a response from the audience. Their love for their characters, and I use the word love because it's obvious that's what it is, informs everything they do, from the script to the acting style and the editing. There are brief snatches of music, unusual for them, a single motif from Beethoven, but they're used very sparingly. Our attention is naturally drawn to the implacable determination of the boy Cyril, and this central theme is both heartrending and utterly authentic. Eventually his need for attention from an older male leads to trouble, but we never lose sight of the logic and the emotional significance of the actions.
There's hope in the story, although we never feel like we get there through a predetermined path set out by the filmmakers. And in fact, just as we think the movie might be ending, another group of troubling implications emerge in a sort of coda which like, real life, seems open-ended. Films like this, that bring us close to real life and the meanings we seek from it, frankly make most American movies look cynical and amoral to me. I really cared about what was going to happen in The Kid With a Bike, because the Dardennes quite deliberately remove the barriers between us and the subjects of their art.