Skip to content

The Kid with a Bike (2012)

March 30, 2012


written by:  Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne

produced by: Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne and Denis Freyd

directed by: Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne

rating: unrated

runtime: 87 minutes

U.S. release date:  October 6, 2011 (New York Film Festival) and March 16, 2012 (limited)


“The Kid with a Bike” is a film I’ve been meaning to catch up with since its appearance at the Chicago International Film Festival last October. All I knew was that it was a French film by the Dardenne Brothers and it was about a – well, kid with a bike. Sometimes a film’s title just hits you a certain way and the straightforward simplicity of this one caught my attention. Plus, not having seen any previous films by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, I became interested when I discovered that the Belgian filmmakers are known for naturalistic melodramas; where characters are faced with difficult life situations that often involve challenging decisions. Such is life and that’s what seems to be the focus within “The Kid with a Bike”, which won the Grand Prix last year at Cannes and is finally seeing a limited release here in the States after making its way around the festival circuit.

The film opens with the Dardennes dropping us right into the drama, in an exposition free manner, we see young Cyril (Thomas Doret) attempting to escape from a boy’s home. The employees and counselors do their best to contain this wily boy, but his determination exhausts them. Cyril is a ball of hurt that has manifested itself in frustrated fits or exasperating silence. He has repeatedly tried calling his father (Jérémie Renier), but reaches a disconnected line and becomes even more concerned when he learns his father has moved, with no forwarding address. This cannot be – his father would never do this, especially knowing Cyril’s bike is still at the apartment they lived at. He would never leave Cyril’s beloved bike.

12 year-old Cyril is about to learn a debilitating truth: that his father is done with him and wants nothing to do with him. As much as he refuses to believe it, as much as we don’t want to believe it – this is happening. He will also soon learn though that he is not alone, that he doesn’t have to feel unloved and unwanted. But in order for that to happen, another escape must be attempted and this time it works. Cyril finds himself back at the apartment building where he lived with his father. Unfortunately, it’s empty and as he evades the boy’s home employees who’ve tracked him down, Cyril collides into Samantha (Cécile de France), a single woman waiting in a nearby clinic. Desperate to flee, he barrels her over, holding her tight and refusing to let go.



Little does he know, she is his Savior. She is not alarmed by actions, nor does she push him away. In fact, just the opposite. The next time he sees Samantha she is visiting him back in the boy’s home, in order to deliver Cyril’s bike. Her act of kindness impacts the boy more than he knows and before she leaves Cyril asks if he can stay with her on weekends. As the two spend more and more time together, both are required to adapt and adjust to this uncharted territory. Samantha is with Cyril as he faces some harsh truths – like when they track down his father and Samantha makes him tell his son that he never wants to see him again. Imagine hearing that.

Despite how depressing and heartbreaking all this is for Cyril, he has a constant in Samantha, regardless of how he lashes out at her. She knows what will happen if he’s lured by the local bully/dealer Wes (Egon Di Mateo, resembling a young Jackie Earle Haley – in a subplot that feels slightly clichéd), she knows he’s just being a kid, but she also knows how desperate he is for acceptance and how she has to put aside any other relationship in order to focus on being there for Cyril.

The Dardennes aren’t out to explain anything for the audience and you should appreciate that. They’d rather let the actors guide us to our own conclusions. Sure, at first I found myself wondering what is motivating this woman to take in this belligerent boy who can’t stay still (and even when he is, his eyes are always searching, his mind always racing) or what is going on with his father that he sees no other option but to abandon his son. It doesn’t take long for it not to matter though, because these characters are so absorbing and their story is so compelling. Sure, if we were given backstories on these characters, we would know more but since we’re pulled in from the start, we just don’t need to.



The success of the film depends on the relationship between Cyril and Samantha, and the vulnerability and honesty the actors must portray. Doret and de France are wonderful together, but they are just as fascinating apart. Both are terrific, carrying themselves with their own unique body language. Newcomer Doret delivers a purity combined with a seemingly intact maturity, able to communicate loneliness and longing, as well as gullibility and frustration. Belgian actress de France (known for the horror thriller “Haute Tension” and Clint Eastwood’s “Hereafter”) brings depth to a role that could’ve simply been a maternal presence with a fairy tale kindness. Instead, the kindness that she freely gives Cyril is radical, challenging the viewer to imagine if they would offer such grace.

What the Dardenne’s give us is a captivating film that is both horrifying and heart-wrenching, with a dash of unabashed sweetness. As writers, producers, and directors, they have left an indelible impression on me. From what I’ve read, “The Kid with a Bike” may be most accessible Dardenne Brothers film yet and that suits me just fine, since I now feel motivated to seek out the rest of their work.




RATING: ***1/2



Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: