The Kid with a Bike (Le gamin au vélo) is a low-key, French-language film that will go unnoticed by many movie watchers (especially ones that ignore any and all foreign films with subtitles).
Winner of the Grand Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, the movie offers some intrigue, excitement and glimpse of compassion in humanity.
While the bike serves a central purpose in the movie (and the kid certainly spends a lot of time on the bike or talking about it) the film is about much more.
Written and directed by Belgian brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, the movie focuses on troubled young Cyril (newcomer Thomas Doret in his first movie role), whose father Guy (Jérémie Renier) has recently abandoned him without a goodbye, a note or anything at all.
Cyril goes on a hunt to find his bicycle, thinking it will lead him back to his father. By chance, he meets a hairdresser named Samantha (Cécile de France) who finds his bicycle and agrees to become his weekend guardian (he spends the weekdays at an orphanage).
Under Samantha’s weekend watches, Cyril goes on a series of misadventures and rebellions involving his bicycle, finding his father (who wants no place in his life) and hanging out with a bad influence, drug-dealing teenager. He tests Samantha’s patience every step of the way, but still, she’s determined to see the good in Cyril and help him out, thus becoming a loving, consistent force in his young life.
There are some dark layers to the story. The rejection Cyril receives from his father on multiple occasions is hard to watch, but it makes things more compelling, knowing the kid’s emotional turmoil. Cyril’s brief foray into criminal mischief also adds some needed tension.
This is the first flick from the Dardenne brothers that I have seen, but they have also written and directed better known movies including L’Enfant and Rosetta. The Kid with a Bike never truly wows me, but I did find it easy to stay fully engaged in what’s happening at all times. The movie dives right into Cyril trying to track down both his father and bicycle from the opening moments, immediately grabbing the audience.
The dramatic scenes are strong, and there are some heartwarming moments such as Samantha’s draw to the young man. Sure, it is inexplicable and almost unbelievable that a strange woman would take to a child she doesn’t know so quickly, but it works.
Her simple acts of kindness toward Cyril remind the audience that some goodness still remains in people.
Doret was quite the natural for his first big screen performance. I felt like his emotions were real, and he was tasked with portraying everything from rage to disappointment to peace.
There is a nail-biter of a moment toward the end, and it’s hard to predict which way the story will go. That’s different from a lot of Hollywood movies where one can predict the ending way before it happens. ••
Movie Grade: B