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The Kid With a Bike

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The Kid With a Bike

Directed by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne

At the Charles Theatre

Cyril (Thomas Doret) knows his dad didn’t just leave him at a group home and move away with no plans of coming back. He certainly didn’t sell Cyril’s bike, despite the reports of another neighborhood kid riding it. Cyril doesn’t give up, even when confronted with an empty apartment and no forwarding address, not even when he reads the old flier advertising his bike for sale in a gas station window. But for all his force of will (you can literally see it as he hurtles forward, leading with his forehead everywhere), he is all of 11 or so. When it becomes plain even to him that his dad isn’t coming back, all he has left is his reclaimed bike and a kind hairdresser named Samantha (Cécile de France) who, pretty much at random, agrees to foster him on weekends. And if his barely bottled hurt and rage aren’t likely to cause him enough trouble, the attentions of minor local hood Wes (Egon Di Mateo) don’t bode well either.

Belgian writer/directors Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne have been over these grotty side streets before in films such as The Son and The Child. As much as their previous films, The Kid With a Bike brings to mind a few other finely observed realist gems, specifically Bicycle Thieves and The 400 Blows. It doesn’t disappoint in that company. Doret’s performance is devastating, not least because of the Dardenne brothers’ deftness in setting up the heartbreaks in their script; Cyril’s implacable forward motion is often so intent that by the time you spot the vulnerabilities in his motives it’s too late to put your guard up. And the film wouldn’t work without de France (L’Auberge Espagnole, High Tension, Mesrine), whose character grounds Doret’s in a number of ways. As implausible as her kindness is, Samantha is too bra-straps-showing genuine and unshowy to ever seem like a screenplay construct.

For all its social-services realism, The Kid With a Bike flirts with melodrama as it builds toward its climax by toggling between the tenacious grip of Cyril’s entanglement with street crime and the growing bond of his relationship with Samantha. The Dardennes seem headed for an ending along similar lines to the gut punches doled out by Bicycle Thieves and The 400 Blows, only to drop your jaw with something entirely different, entirely in character, and entirely their own. In all, a modest masterpiece.

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