No more training wheels

Quietly powerful story of orphaned boy navigating his difficult road

Hey, it’s not “two kids” with a bike.

Hey, it’s not “two kids” with a bike.

Ends tonight, May 31
Starring Thomas Doret, Cécile De France and Jérémie Renier. Directed by Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne. Pageant Theatre. Rated PG-13.
Rated 4.0

The kid in Kid With a Bike is Cyril (Thomas Doret), a troubled pre-teen whom we first see trying to get beyond the confines of the orphanage into which he’s been cast. He’s determined to be reunited with his father and with the bike he’s sure his lone parent will be bringing back to him.

Cyril’s quest seems simple enough, but there are complications soon to follow. First off, the father (Jérémie Renier) is in desperate straits. He’s had to sell the little he owns (including Cyril’s bike) and seems incapable of assuming parental responsibility.

In one of his brief escapes, the kid collides with (and literally latches on to) a beautician named Samantha (Cécile de France). He returns to the orphanage, but after she finds his bike and retrieves it for him, he impulsively asks her to become his foster mother on weekends, and she, with almost no hesitation, accepts.

The title notwithstanding, this quietly powerful Belgian film is also very much about the heartening and surprisingly fraught relationship between Samantha and the kid. And that too has its complications, first in the stress it puts on her relationship with her longtime boyfriend Gilles (Laurent Caron), and then (and most dramatically) in Cyril’s falling under the shabbily charismatic influence of Wes (Egon Di Mateo), the leader of a small neighborhood gang.

There’s an obvious potential for melodrama in all this, but the filmmaking Dardenne brothers, Jean-Pierre and Luc, present it all in their characteristic low-key, semi-documentary manner. There’s a kind of patient generosity in their even-handed, non-judgmental approach, and in the three separate moments when there’s music to be heard (Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto), pivotal turns of event take on a semi-mysterious note of spiritual potential.

Cyril is a remarkably sturdy and resourceful 11-year-old, and little Thomas Doret embodies his bold persistence in thoroughly convincing fashion. Cécile de France, a Franco-Belgian star seen here previously in Clint Eastwood’s Hereafter, gives Samantha a similar rough-edged sturdiness in physical terms, and that, in the story’s contexts, becomes something moral and spiritual as well.

Renier, Cyril’s sad, feckless father in the film, is a Dardenne regular. He played another kind of errant father in the Dardennes’ The Child (2005) and made his feature-film debut at age 14 as a troubled, fatherless kid in La Promesse (1996), the first Dardenne film to gain international acclaim. He’s now something of a star in Europe, but in this film he has once again immersed himself in the rough-edged poetry of the Dardennes’ quietly humanistic realism.