Grace, Dardenne style.
This is to say that The Kid With a Bike is about as inspiring and hopeful as one of the socially conscious contemporary dramas from filmmaking brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne (Lorna’s Silence) is likely to get. You’ll leave feeling pretty good, but just barely.
The kid of the title is 11-year-old Cyril (Thomas Doret, slight in stature only). Abandoned by his father at a government boarding school, Cyril is on a quest to retrieve the bike that was left behind when we first meet him (his real quest, of course, is to retrieve his father). He repeatedly escapes from school, biting his counselors if he has to, but is always dragged back to his lonely life, without even a bike to call his own.
…manages to balance a spiritual sense of grace with the earthy eye of a here-and-now realist.
As volatile as Cyril is – and Doret is always in motion, running here or pedaling there – compassion still surrounds him. His counselors, for one thing, are surprisingly patient and never abusive. What’s more, during one of his getaways, he ducks into a medical waiting room and clings to a woman as school officials come through a door. Her response isn’t fear or disgust, but this: “You can hold me, but not so tight.”
That woman is Samantha (Cecile De France), who becomes involved in Cyril’s life enough to have him spend the weekends at her home. From there The Kid with a Bike traces a boy walking along the precipice of delinquent youth, where there is the possibility of a good life, but also the yawning abyss of rage, shame and bad choices waiting to devour him.
Like many of the Dardennes’ films, The Kid with a Bike recalls the unadorned artistry of Robert Bresson – particularly Mouchette, which centers on an equally at-risk young girl. The Dardennes’ spare, judicious use of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5 is its own nod to how music was employed by Bresson, especially the way the gently swelling chords enfold Cyril, and us, at critical times. This is a rare movie in the way it manages to balance a spiritual sense of grace with the earthy eye of a here-and-now realist. It’s both of and out of this world.