The Kid with a Bike
The Belgian Dardenne brothers are not known for making cheerful movies. They are adept at writing and directing low-key pieces of slice-of-(usually miserable) life, encouraging naturalistic performances from newcomers, and barring no holds in the emotional stakes.
Predictably The Kid with a Bike tackles difficult subject matter, namely the broken spirit of a young boy, Cyril (the first screen performance from Thomas Doret) whose dad has left him and no longer wants contact. Cyril lives in a children’s home and is fostered into the weekend care of Samantha, a benevolent hairdresser who tries to forge a relationship with the child, against considerable challenges.
Watching Cyril’s rejection at the hands of his father (Dardenne regular Jeremie Renier, seen recently in a much lighter role in Potiche) would melt even the hardest heart. It’s hard to sit without a tightening in your stomach as Cyril gets in with the wrong crowd and consequently into serious trouble. But despite the inevitable sadness of Cyril’s situation, the film manages to be uplifting as well as affecting (considerably more so than L’Enfant). Without slipping into melodrama, each situation is handled with calm and realism, a dash of sympathy, but nothing manipulative. It is a masterstroke that there are only four brief instances of soundtrack – the repetition of four bars of Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto, halted before the phrase resolves.
Every performance is terrific, especially the young Cyril who manages to convey his pain with scarcely a flicker across his face. Mostly we see him hurtling around town on his titular bicycle (when it’s not being stolen), a true emblem of his self-propelling journey to freedom and a new, happier life.