The Kid With A Bike Review

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Eleven year-old Cyril (Doret) tries to find his father, who has abandoned him to a care home, and retrieve his precious bicycle. During the search he clings to hairdresser Samantha (de France) who agrees to foster him at weekends. Yet Cyril won’t give up


If you haven't caught up with critical darlings the Dardennes brothers yet — think the Coens meet Ken Loach in Belgium — then The Kid With A Bike is a great My First Dardenne movie. While it combines many of the double Palme D’Or winners’ obsessions and no-nonsense approach — note the title — it doesn’t feel like filmmakers going through the motions: instead, it feels human, poignant and real.

Taking the Loach analogy further, this is the Dardennes’ Kes, a realistic, unsentimental take on childhood. Eleven year-old Cyril (Thomas Doret) is one of cinema’s great JDs, a feral kid in care refusing to be tamed. For 20-odd minutes we follow Cyril on his quest to find his absconded father (pointedly played by former Dardenne child actor Jérémie Renier) and thus his bike. Little of consequence happens, but almost by stealth we realise we are caught up in Cyril’s world as he is taken under the wing of hairdresser Samantha (Cécile de France), whose motivations for fostering are vague, and falls in with a local hard kid (Egon Di Mateo).

This is typical Dardenne fare, drawing a terrific performance from an unknown — little Doret is astonishing, turning from blank to ferocious on a dime, never soliciting sympathy from the characters or the audience — exploring the ebb and flow of lower-working-class life in Seraing and using a naturalistic style that is observational but freewheeling: a long tracking shot that follows Cyril on his bike out-Shames Shame in its peerless execution.

Yet, this time round, there are tweaks to the house style. Breaking from tradition, the Dardennes use a spare but pronounced use of music, snatches of Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto providing bursts of emotion. And casting de France (best known here for Eastwood’s The Hereafter) sees the brothers working with a Euro star. Against the intensity of Doret, de France is a measured, sensible, considerate presence. Just at the point where you can see her kindly influence working its charms on Cyril, the film throws in a last ten-minute curveball that puts the happy outcome in doubt. The poignant end is moving but earned and believable — the Dardennes wouldn’t have it any other way.

In outline it sounds trite — a disenfranchised kid is turned around by a kindly stranger — but the Dardennes’ make it so much more. Raw but compassionate, naturalistic but compelling. If you’re looking to get into the Dardennes, this is a great place to s