Sure, the bicycle is an interesting bit of mechanical ingenuity, but it’s also a hugely significant artifice of childhood nostalgia. Everyone remembers learning how to ride a bike; falling off, having to pick yourself up from the gutter, and the sense of freedom and exuberance when you finally crack it (E.T., anyone?). A powerful signifier, Belgian filmmaking duo the Dardenne’s Brothers spin the wheel and give us this uplifting, yet tragic social drama. Oxymoronic, but downright powerful.
The titular child is Cyril (played by acting neophyte Thomas Doret). With no motherly figure in his life, the typically monosyllabic twelve year old idolises his father (played by Dardenne regular Jérémie Renier), even though he is a despicable father figure, selfishly selling Cyril’s cherished bicycle and sending him to live in an orphanage. Desperate for his father’s affection, Cyril is given the opportunity of a fresh start when local hairdresser Samantha (the ravenous Cecile De France) who agrees to foster him during the weekends. She’s so nice, she even buys back his favourite set of wheels! Back in the real world, the impressionable Cyril gets in with the wrong crowd, and it’s down to the maternal Samantha to get him back on track.
Typical Dardenne, the film’s simplistic premise enables the performances to steer the drama, and their unfussy photography technique. With a character that could easily become an annoying little brat, Doret delivers an amazing performance, teetering between the explosive and implosive, we’re never sure what path his taciturn character will take, even if he seems to be in control at every turn.
If you’re knowledgable of the Dardenne’s filmography, it’s fascinating to see Jérémie Renier as the reticent father figure. One of Belgium’s finest actors, he cut his teeth as a teenager working with the Dardennes on their 1996 masterpiece La Promesse. Hopefully such an amazing career trajectory will come Doret’s way too.
In the end, The Kid With a Bike is exactly what you’d expect from a film with such a quaint name, by these two darling filmmakers. Full of whimsy, it’s the least challenging and, henceforth, most accessible film the brothers have done in a while – with highest grossing box office sales and a bunch of award nods in the process. It’s perfectly executed and glides so gracefully over it’s brief 87 minute running time too. Like Ken Loach, the Dardenne’s are dealing with bleak societal issues in a way that is alluring, perhaps even optimistic, and totally worth watching.