“Don’t be upset if it’s not the way you dream it’ll be.”
‘The Kid with a Bike’, directed by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne in 2011, is a Belgian drama telling the story of a twelve year old boy, Cyril, played by Thomas Doret, who is abandoned by his father and is placed in a foster home. A hairdresser called Samantha, played by Cécile de France, takes him in at weekends, but she struggles to care for him and he soon ends up committing crimes on the street. It’s a story reminiscent of François Truffaut’s ‘The 400 Blows’, and includes a number of explicit visual nods towards the 1959 French new wave classic. As with Truffaut’s movie, ‘The Kid with a Bike’ tells the story of Cyril from his level, following him unflinchingly. The Dardenne brothers offer no moral judgement through the film and the characters they present are surprisingly free from obvious motivation, so Cyril’s father when we meet him is reluctant to engage with his son, but curiously passive, whilst Samantha is the opposite – caring and willing to become Cyril’s guardian but for reasons that remain unclear. The film is full of unanswered questions, including the fate of Cyril at the end to the movie, but this adds to its power and its sense of reality. The performances are convincing, particularly Doret’s as Cyril, whose mercurial instability and apparent acceptance of his life rivals that of Jean-Pierre Léaud’s as Antoine Doinel. For all its grim realism and dark subject matter, the Dardenne’s movie also has touches of pastoral romance, particularly towards the end when Cyril and Samantha ride their bikes and picnic together. It’s strangely a sunny movie, but the optimistic look of the film serves to highlight the lack of innocence in Cyril’s life.
Would I recommend it? Yes – there are a number of potential double bills with this film. ‘The 400 Blows’ is the obvious one, but ‘Bicycle Thieves’ also shares its themes and has the same realistic approach to a dark subject matter. You could also watch Mark Cousins’ documentary ‘A Story of Children and Film‘ as a primer.