Those familiar with the work of the Dardenne brothers, the great Belgian filmmakers, may be a little surprised that their latest movie, The Kid With a Bike, isn’t quite as devastating as some of the brothers’ previous work, movies such as The Child, The Son, and Rosetta. But that doesn’t mean anyone will mistake The Kid With A Bike for a family-oriented Disney romp.
For 27 years, Robert Denerstein was the film critic at The Rocky Mountain News. Read more of Robert's reviews at Denerstein Unleashed.
This time, the Dardennes focus on a child who’s far from endearing. Abandoned by his father, Cyril (Thomas Doret) is initially determined to find him. Doret’s Cyril is a willful kid whose behavior can be obnoxious. We cut Cyril slack because we understand that the father who left him (Jeremie Renier) barely can cope with his own life, much less a kid’s. Renier’s Guy doesn’t want his son back.
After running away from the orphanage where he’s been sent, Cyril meets Samantha (Cecile De France), a hairdresser who finds the bike the boy’s father sold. She buys it back for Cyril, and ultimately agrees to allow the boy to visit her on weekends. Away from the orphanage, Cyril soon falls under the sway of Wes (Egon Di Mateo), an older kid who deals drugs. Wes appreciates Cyril’s toughness, and understands that he can turn Cyril into an accomplice. Think of Wes as a junior Fagan in the Dickensian world the Dardennes create.
Will Cyril go bad? Can he be saved from becoming another Wes, a discarded kid with survival skills that have been twisted toward criminality? You may find yourself wondering why Samantha commits herself to this semi-wild child, but you sense that Cyril and Samantha have the potential to become an enduring odd couple. In fact, the entire picture can be viewed as a kind of experiment to determine whether Cyril and Samantha have a future that can nurture both of them in ways they’d never be able to achieve by themselves.
The Dardenne brothers have focused on kids before, perhaps because they understand that the vulnerability of the young attracts some of society’s cruelest assaults. I wouldn’t put The Kid With a Bike in the same class as other Dardenne brothers’ movies, but it’s another worthy entry into a body of work that doesn’t spare either its characters or the audience.