Moving! That’s the best way to describe the stirring amalgamation of motion and emotion propelling Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne’s “The Kid with a Bike.”
Moving! That’s the best way to describe the stirring amalgamation of motion and emotion propelling Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne’s “The Kid with a Bike.” It’s constantly on the go, gradually gaining momentum, as it sends the heart rushing toward a ginger-haired little boy in search of salvation.
The images speed so fast, the Dardennes barely allow you time to think. But think you do. And what you think about most are all the lost and neglected children of the world. Kids like “Bike’s” Cyril, a crafty, superbly athletic 11-year-old who runs, jumps, clambers and pedals through an obstacle course rife with folly, as he frantically searches for love and redemption after being forsaken by his cold, compassionless father.
He finds it early on in the arms of Samantha, a saintly hairdresser, whom he literally crashes into while on the run from authority. She takes him into her home, provides him love, warmth and acceptance. But Cyril is too blind and too misguided to see how good he has it. He cruelly shuns her, but keeps returning to her whenever he gets in trouble, which is often. And each time she valiantly bails him out, progressively winning his trust. The process eventually has its rewards, but it’s heartbreaking to watch Cyril naively investing his faith in the wrong people at the worst times.
The Dardennes make no bones about the religious allegory at hand, as good and evil make a play for Cyril’s vulnerable soul. But they do it with such subtlety and grace, the biblical inferences never overpower you. Rather, the brothers, devout Catholics, comfort you and restore faith in a world where people as patient and saintly as Samantha still exist.
They also buoy your faith in filmmakers who eschew the need to hammer you over the head with their intent. They leave it to you to interpret as you see fit, which means “Bike” is a movie that demands your participation. The Dardennes merely provide the images and the outline. The rest is up to you.
That also places more of a burden on their actors, but Cecile de France (so haunting in Clint Eastwood’s “Hereafter”) as Samantha and talented newcomer Thomas Doret as Cyril, not only meet the challenge, they surpass it with deeply affecting performances that quietly get to you. In lesser roles, Jeremie Reiner as Cyril’s heartless father, and Egon di Mateo as a local gang lord intent on corrupting Cyril, are equally strong. But what holds you is the adrenaline the Dardennes create through the sheer energy of their fast-paced storytelling.
Generating most of that verve is Doret, who never stops moving, whether he’s vigorously pedaling his beloved bike or chasing the neighborhood toughs repeatedly trying to steal it. Beyond the motion, it’s the emotion that Doret elicits for Cyril, a kid, frankly, not easy to like, especially when he runs afoul of the law. But by the end of this simple but highly complex film, you’ll be shocked to learn just how much you care.
THE KID WITH A BIKE (Unrated) Cast includes Cecile de France and Thomas Doret. Written and directed by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne. In French with English subtitles. 3.5 stars out of 4.