It is rare to encounter a film which swaps sentimentality for realism and still remains as watchable as The Kid with a Bike.
While the clumsily worded title of this Belgian drama suggests that something may have been lost in translation, the characters, emotions and encounters depicted by directing duo Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne remain as clear and affecting as their reputation suggests. The brothers were apparently inspired by fairytales when writing the screenplay for this film, which perhaps explains why The Kid with a Bike is able to tackle such a wide range of social and economic issues, without every really straying into the type of realism which would typically be described as ‘gritty’.
The ‘kid’ in question is Cyril, played by Thomas Doret, who gives This Is England‘s Thomas Turgoose a run for his money as a first-time actor portraying an angry and father-less young boy. Cyril’s father, however, is not deceased, but has simply gone AWOL, leaving Cyril in a foster home (his mother is never mentioned).
It is this premise which sets the film up for an unusual look at the actions rooted in the unconditional love for another human being. Cyril goes in search of his absentee father, who eventually makes a brief appearance in the form of In Bruges‘ Jérémie Renier. Cyril is clearly and inexplicably devoted to his father, who shows very little interest in maintaining any sort of relationship with him. It is, in fact, a local hairdresser named Samantha (Cécile de France) who shows a parental love for Cyril, which is perhaps just as perplexing as his father’s emotional indifference.
It is this lack of external insight into the motivations of the adult characters which gives audiences a unique opportunity to experience events from a child-like perspective. We are not given any back-story explaining why Cyril’s father no longer wishes to be a part of his life, nor are we asked to understand the compassion which is shown to him by Samantha who agrees to take care of him at weekends.
Cyril’s naivety is confirmed when he meets an older boy named Wes, a local hoodlum, who attempts to steer him towards trouble by offering the friendship which he so craves. Doret is certainly impressive, not only in his acting ability, but also in his outstanding capacity for physical movement – whether it be on said bike, shimming up trees, or running recklessly through parks and forests, he seems to move with a such a degree of abandon that his actions not only believable, but also have a sense of constant urgency about them, giving the film a vivid sense of pace.
The Kid with a Bike explores the consequences of actions in a way which might be inspired by fairytales, but it does so within the confines of realism. This is perhaps most notable on the occasions where people attempt to cause each other physical pain, and then stop to wonder if they have gone too far. Even minor characters are given complex consciences, and there is always the fleeting suggestion of remorse which prevents any aspect of this film from feeling one-dimensional. In a tale which prioritises kindness and patience above romance and sentiment, The Kid with a Bike is not without it’s tender moments. Though much of the emotion might be ambiguous, there is no doubt that this film is something quite remarkable to watch.
The Kid with a Bike is released in UK cinemas on 23rd March 2012.