Cyril is looking for his dad. The boy was dropped off at a state-run foster home by his father and told it was just a temporary thing while the man got his act together financially. But the days became weeks, and now when Cyril tries calling he gets a recording that the line has been disconnected. He runs away from the home eventually making his way back to where he used to live.
But his father is long gone.
The Kid With a Bike offers up a sad story, but it avoids melodrama through honest writing, beautiful acting and Cyril’s sheer force of will. The boy refuses to accept his abandonment at face value and pursues the truth regardless of the walls erected in his way. It’s alternately heartbreaking and hopeful, and it’s never less than engaging. Most surprising for a simple drama, the movie is easily one of the year’s most suspenseful as Cyril’s fate and future hang precariously in the balance.
Samantha (Cecile de France), a local hairdresser who crossed paths with Cyril (Thomas Doret) during his escape, offers to take him in on weekends, but the boy refuses to give up on his dad. He lashes out, cycles into depressed states and becomes an easy target for poor decision-making and suspect substitute father figures. The odds against Samantha as a stranger thrust into the situation are immense, but they’re stacked even higher against poor Cyril. The only thing that hasn’t let him down is that damn bike.
I pity the fool who tries to steal it.
Suspense and tension belong almost exclusively in the domain of thrillers, mysteries and action films, but in reality there are very few fictions to rival the dramas of the real world. Cyril’s story is far from unique, but that doesn’t diminish the powerful effect of his struggle. Viewers can’t help but want to see him survive, both physically and emotionally. More than that we’d like to see him thrive. But then he breaks down and takes it out physically on himself. And a local criminal invites him up to his room. And he rides his bike too cheerfully near traffic. And…
The script from writers/directors Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne puts Cyril in harm’s way, sometimes due to circumstance and sometimes due to his own stubborn ignorance, and it almost always adds to a growing tension. Every triumph is met with a setback, every reward with more risk. As draining as it can be at times, the film also manages to magnify even the smallest strands of hope and love around him. Like a scrawny, pale, French Weeble Wobble Cyril gets up again each time he’s knocked down. It’s determination and a refusal to give up, and it’s enough to make him an inspiration to behold.
The film is simply shot and features a limited but highly effective score, and the supporting cast all do fine jobs. de France in particular turns Samantha from generic good Samaritan to big-hearted woman with ease. But as good and straight forward as the script and supporting actors are the film belongs 100% to Doret and his naturally fearless performance. You want to yell and strap him down when he strikes out at Samantha, the one selfless person in his corner, but at the same time you can’t deny him his unfortunate rage. Your heart breaks watching him take that anger and pain out on his own skin. You want to pause the screen when his normally somber features crack a well earned smile. Doret never overdoes a single emotion or action and instead gets more across with a simple look than most child actors do with their entire careers.
The Kid With a Bike is a beautiful, heart wrenching drama that finds tension and suspense in a tragic situation. As bad as things are they can always get worse, but sometimes love, luck and persistence can make all the difference. Sometimes.
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