That yearning ? for connection, for an unconditional love that alone can save souls ? is one that the Belgian brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne know all about, and that their films have consistently acknowledged. Focusing on people mostly ignored in life and almost always ignored by Hollywood, their intimate, blue-collar stories (Rosetta, La promesse, L'enfant) maintain a profoundly empathetic connection to their flailing characters, whose actions, however shocking, are never painted as despicable. Even in a world as materialistic and self-centered as our own, the Dardennes remain committed to convincing us that good can exist, if not always prevail.
This generosity stamps their work with a humanity as recognizable as their lack of sentimentality or emotional manipulation. Emerging from a shared background in documentaries, the brothers' verite style surrounds their characters with on-the-fly energy, perfectly conveying the precariousness of their lives. For Cyril, recovering his missing bike (which his father had promised to look after for him) brings him one step closer to reuniting with that deadbeat dad, an obsession so clearly doomed that we can barely watch his frantic locomotions.
Only when Cyril stops moving do possibilities for a future ? both good and bad ? present themselves. On the run from his counselors, he crashes into Samantha (the lovely Cecile de France), an unflappable hairdresser who calmly accepts his desperately clinging hands. Soon she's agreeing to foster him on the weekends, despite his prickly behavior and the irritation of her lover.
What connects these two is basic instinct, and one of the film's loveliest conceits is its refusal to explain why this hardworking single woman would take on the burden of a troubled, volatile adolescent boy. Their connection is almost primitive; and when danger appears in the form of a small-time hood (Egon Di Mateo) who sees potential in Cyril's scrappy fearlessness, it's to the film's credit that we are never sure which road he will choose.
Structured like a fairy tale with three key locations ? the unnamed provincial town where Samantha lives and works, the wooded outskirts where thugs tempt with soda and cigarettes, and the gas station that functions like a moral anteroom ? The Kid With a Bike feels as vulnerable as Cyril's unformed character. Within its tight 87 minutes, not a lot happens, unless you count the saving of a life.