But if the Dardennes have taught us anything, it is to constantly expect the unexpected. Their films often play out like complex morality plays, with deeply wounded characters who make bad decisions, and must face the inevitable consequences. In that regard, The Kid with a Bike fits comfortably into their oeuvre, despite its (sparing) use of music, which is something of a departure for the Brothers Dardenne. But even at just a few notes long, the one piece of music that repeats itself occasionally throughout the film adds just the right amount of devastating punctuation without pushing or manipulating the audience with any unnecessary sentimentality.
|Samantha (Cécile de France) and Cyril (Thomas Doret) in Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne’s THE KID WITH A BIKE. Photo by Christine Plenus. A Sundance Selects release.|
Unable to reach him, Cyril constantly runs away from his keepers at the home, trying to find his dad by any means necessary. Instead, he discovers the hard truth that his father has moved without leaving a forwarding address, and that he sold his beloved bike. In a random act of kindness, a woman who witnessed Cyril's meltdown (Cécile De France) tracks down his bike and buys it back for him. Cyril immediately feels a connection with her and asks if he can stay with her on weekends. She agrees, and the two form a tremulous bond, and a shared determination to reunite him with his father. But when circumstances suddenly change, Cyril begins acting out, and as the wrong crowd beckons to pull the troubled boy in a dangerous direction, Samantha's love for him may be the only thing that can save him from the edge.
|Guy Catoul (Jérémie Renier) and Cyril (Thomas Doret) in Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne’s THE KID WITH A BIKE. Photo by Christine Plenus. A Sundance Selects release.|
None of it would have been possible, of course, without a strong central performance, and Doret is uncommonly good as Cyril. Child performances are always a gamble, especially when they have to carry an entire film on their shoulders, but Doret proves himself more than capable, appearing in nearly every frame of the film, more than holding his own beside veterans Renier and de France. Without him, one imagines the film would not be the success that it is. The Dardennes' tender and deeply human vision is perfectly summed up in the film's final shot, which may seem a bit abrupt but upon reflection one comes to see that it really couldn't have ended any other way. It is a symbolic summation of the entire film, crafted in the Dardennes' typically unassuming way. In fact, "unassuming" is probably the best word to describe The Kid with a Bike. It's a devastating film told with great emotional economy and quiet dignity. The Dardennes say so much using so little, and just as its brief musical theme only appears during fleeting moments of thematic import, the auteurist brothers consistently play their cards close to the chest, resulting in a huge emotional payoff that resonates more deeply than its sparse elements might suggest. It is perhaps their most accessible film, but that shouldn't deter their more ardent, art house fans - The Kid with a Bike is something very special indeed.
GRADE - ★★★½ (out of four)
THE KID WITH A BIKE | Directed by Jean Pierre & Luc Dardenne | Stars Cécile De France, Thomas Doret, Jérémie Renier, Fabrizio Rongione | Not rated | Now playing in New York and Los Angeles.