Twelve year-old Cyril (Thomas Doret), abandoned by his father (Jérémie Rénier), lives in a state-run children’s home. He is inarticulate, rebellious and intent on finding the father who not only has gone AWOL without a word to Cyril or a forwarding address but has sold the boy’s much-loved bike. Cyril’s path crosses that of Samantha (a luminous Cécile de France), a hairdresser who becomes a guardian angel and surrogate family and accepts to take the boy on weekends. She buys back his bike, helps him find his father who brushes him off, and pulls him out of scraps he falls into through the shenanigans of a bad crowd. Through long takes of furious pedaling (excellently filmed) and a couple of adventures that could turn out badly but don’t, Cyril works off his rage and justified sense of abandonment until he and Samantha can become a family of sorts.
The Dardenne brothers’ film “The kid with the bike,” a contender for the main prize at Cannes, is typical of a certain type of European cinema, so close to life and so removed from our experience as filmgoers that it can become almost difficult to watch, as if we had stumbled on a deeply private experience that we’re not supposed to witness. “The kid with the bike” (“Le Gamin au Vélo”), much like other films by the Belgian siblings, shows us little people that manage to survive though the world tramples them with no compunction. And where lesser filmmakers would embark on background or motivation (why does Samantha take in the boy, why does his father reject him, why is anyone kind, why is anyone irresponsible?) the Dardennes simply show us life as it happens, not always pat, not always explainable.
Despite the extreme sadness—desolation even—that permeates Cyril’s life and the blows he is dealt one after the other, “The Kid on the Bike” is not as bleak as “Lorna, “The Son,” or other Dardenne films. Perhaps because of Samantha’s thorough goodness, the film, if not quite uplifting, leaves us with a message of hope.
“Kid” is also noteworthy in Cannes not only because any Dardenne film is an event (two have already garnered the Palme d’Or over the years and several others won lesser awards ) but also because it’s the brothers’ first film with a musical score of sorts—a few soaring Beethoven notes repeated several times, and a longer piece from the “Emperor” concerto played during the end credits. A perfect choice. And a very good film.