Scraped knees, a helmet askew, and the first tenuous wobbling of a bike whose training wheels have just been taken off—it is said that you never forget how to ride a bike. The French-language film “The Kid with a Bike” shows how one boy is forced to never forget the suffering at the hands of his negligent father. However, while the movie does not end happily, the development of young Cyril (Thomas Doret) and the relationship between Cyril and his father, Guy Cutul (Jérémie Renier), creates a film that the viewer will never be able to forget as well.
“The Kid With a Bike” won the Grand Prix at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, and it delivers a tale of a child whose derelict father abandons him to foster care. The film journeys into Cyril’s emotional breakdown as he navigates an Oliver Twist-esque survival story set in modern-day Belgium. Directors Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne create a formidable tension from the very first scene as young Cyril escapes from his foster home to desperately search for his father whom he refuses to believe has abandoned him. Guy lies to his son, saying he will return to the foster home, and when Cyril returns to his father’s old apartment, he finds that it has been indeed abandoned. In a sad show of denial, Cyril reasons that his prized possession, his bike, has been stolen, unable to grasp the reality that his father probably sold it. Through a twist of fate, Cyril has the good fortune of running into Samantha (Cécile de France) a good-hearted hair dresser who becomes his foster mother. The bike becomes a ubiquitious symbol, providing the means for Cyril to discover the agonizing truth that he will never again be able to depend on his father.
Doret’s portrayal of Cyril’s emotional turmoil goes beyond the boy’s years. Although the character can sometimes be a frustrating example of youth, his presence and believable interactions with supporting characters are what creates a gripping story. Doret’s superb gift of portraying tension with limited dialogue shows his ability to really embody the idea of “less is more.” Long speeches are nonexistent, but his short, succinct answers do not prevent the audience to from feeling a lesser degree of angst. Halfway through the movie, it becomes apparent that what Cyril does not say helps to create a more developed character than what he does.
One scene that is crucial for setting up the film’s stakes and the boy’s tumultuous relationship with his father is when Cyril, on an obsessive journey to find his father, stops at a convenience store to find the advertisement for his own bike being sold by his father before he skips town. The expected reaction would be an outburst of anger, yet he simply asks the man behind the counter if he knows the address of his father. The man says he doesn’t, looks back at him, and coldly asks why he doesn’t know his own address. Cyril replies “I forgot.” Such a simple reply exemplifies his pent-up anger and sadness without needless extrapolation.
One of the film’s only weaknesses centers around Cyril’s relationship with auxiliary characters. Although Samantha struggles to connect with Cyril, her reasons for helping him remain a mystery and an explanation could have made her character more complex than the trite portrayal of a generic good Samaritan. For example, Samantha leaves her boyfriend after Cyril talks back to him despite there being no clear reason why Samantha would choose to stay with the boy. Similarly, his interactions with local gang leader, Wesker, could have created an interesting father-figure dynamic to serve as a foil.
The ending of the movie leaves the viewers wondering whether they should be impressed by the director’s boldness or disappointed by loose ends. However, the film’s contemplative ending creates a memorable whole.
—Staff Writer Alexander Spencer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.