Cyril (Thomas Doret) is a 12 year old boy living in foster care in Seraing, Belgium. He is desperately searching for his father and his treasured bike, but is devastated when his father wants nothing to do with him. However, Cyril meets Samantha (Cécile de France), a local hairdresser, who not only finds his bike, but also agrees to foster him at weekends. This arrangement turns out to be an unstable one, especially when Cyril gets mixed up with a local drug dealer.
During the first ten minutes of The Kid With a Bike, it’s immediately evident that Cyril, at just 12 years old, is already a pretty damaged character. He lives in a care home, has no mother of which to speak and is clearly on a hiding to nothing looking for his father. It’s not a nice situation to witness and is made all the more frustrating by the unfaltering faith Cyril puts in his disinterested dad. Right from the off we’re aware that Cyril’s life is a crossroads and he could take either direction. His bike is the only constant in his life, which is why he’s so protective over it.
This should provide all the ammunition needed to identify and sympathise with Cyril, but it just doesn’t quite happen (at least not for me). Some of the scenes with Cyril and his dad are truly gut-wrenching, but those just don’t seem to make up for how difficult a child Cyril is. He’s clearly had a difficult upbringing that’s been devoid of any kind of parental love, but it’s hard to sympathise with someone who is often purposely irritating, disobedient and, at times, violent. Samantha seems to have never ending patience with him.
But that’s another slightly contentious issue – Samantha’s motivation for fostering and caring for Cyril are completely unknown. After a very brief meeting with Cyril in a doctors’ surgery, she goes out of her way to find his bike and agrees to foster him, yet we never know why. She’s even prepared to sacrifice her other relationships for the sake of Cyril, which whilst hugely admirable, just seems a little far fetched. It would be nice to learn a little more about Samantha and why she is so dedicated to helping a boy she barely knows. Some may like the ambiguity of her motivations and argue that one shouldn’t be so critical of someone else’s altruism, but it just doesn’t quite feel believable.
Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne provide excellent direction for the film, which gives it a slightly more arthouse feel. It could easily have been straightforwardly shot, but the use of long takes, the odd jump cut and the juxtaposition of drab and vibrant colours help to give it more of an identity.
It’s also worth mentioning the performances from the two leads, Thomas Doret and Cécile de France. Both give superb (and often very physical) performances, with de France in particular really standing out. Doret occasionally doesn’t exude enough emotion in the role, but for such a young actor, it’s a fine debut feature.
The Kid With a Bike is a very succinct little film. It’s not concerned with what came before and leaves us to make up our own mind about what comes after. It also has an ending that some may not get along with, appearing more allegorical than providing any actual narrative purpose, but it doesn’t harm the film at all. At times The Kid With a Bike is a very moving piece of cinema, but too often it feels a little shallow and keeps you just at arms’ length. A little more depth to the characters would have worked wonders.