‘The Kid with a Bike’ is the story of Cyril, an 11 year old boy with two things on his mind: his bicycle, and his dad. Both are missing as the film opens, and he is passionate about both of them. The bike is found by Samantha (Cécile de France), a hairdresser who understands what Cyril is going through and takes him under her wing. But his father is a far more intractable problem, and one which underlies every dramatic incident in the film.
We know this from the first scene where Cyril (beautifully but unsentimentally played by Thomas Doret) is desperately trying to phone ‘Papa’ from the children’s home where he now lives; a scene which could have been gut-wrenchingly overdone but which instead is all the more moving because of its understatement. Directed by the Dardenne brothers, this approach is sustained throughout the film, despite some dramatic and even violent scenes. Samantha allows Cyril to stay with her at weekends, and manages to arrange a meeting between him and his father which is fraught with difficulty - after which the boy comes to realise that his dad will no longer look after him.
The film conveys, without spelling it out, that what happens next is due to the sense of hurt and abandonment Cyril feels. He still loves his father – who is portrayed as sad rather than bad – and in trying to kick against this betrayal he becomes involved with a local drug dealer. The film has several long, unbroken takes during which we can almost see into Cyril’s mind, and after one traumatic incident we follow him in close-up as he his rides his bike, painfully coming to terms with the fact that the dealer is not the substitute father figure he longs for.
How and why Samantha copes so tirelessly with Cyril’s difficult behaviour is not explained, but perhaps it does not need to be. The film has a ‘double twist’ ending, the first part of which is as heart-stopping as being in a plane about to crash; the second part is the safe landing which Samantha was there to ensure all along. But this is no Hollywood style happy ending. True to itself, the film’s final scene is extraordinary in its ordinariness, hinting at the redemption that very nearly didn’t happen, and leaving us to imagine the rest of the story.
by Viv Apple