The Kid with a Bike, the Belgium export originally released as Le Gamin au Velo, perfectly balances a tale of lyrical companionship on its handlebars while delivering a compelling examination of what has become a universal cancer: the children that we forget or dismiss.
Eleven-year-old Cyril is an every child--strawberry blond hair, average-build and a passive interest in the world around him make him an ideal candidate for anonymity. Perhaps that's why Cyril's father abandoned him; perhaps it was dire economic circumstances; or perhaps it was the father's diminishing capacity for commitment. It really doesn't matter. What does matter is that Cyril is alone. Left in a long-term foster-care facility, Cyril is convinced that his father has simply forgotten him and sets out on a painful quest to find the man who has kicked him to the curb. But in that journey, Cyril instead finds his old bicycle (which the father had sold for quick cash), and therein Cyril finds himself.
Belgian filmmakers and brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne have aptly chosen to use Cyril's two-wheeler as the boy's ultimate coping mechanism. Cyril rides his bike the way most troubled adults pace a hallway--lost in thought, perhaps a dream, of a life not yet lived.
By happenstance, Cyril meets Samantha, a lower-middle-class hairdresser. By showing Cyril some attention and guidance, she is an earth-bound angel (though her wings are easily ruffled).
There are so many things to love about The Boy with a Bike, but the greatest gift is the discovery of Thomas Doret as Cyril. It's one of the finest, most self-aware performances of an adolescent ever displayed on the big screen, and yes, I understand that list includes some pretty wonderful young actors. Doret acts with such grace that I regularly had to remind myself that the film was a piece of fiction.
Cecile De France's Samantha is as touching as the actress is beautiful. Cyril's circumstance challenges Samantha's childless, unmarried lifestyle. Not unlike learning to ride a bike for the very first time, Samantha must navigate a new balance, with Cyril onboard.
The brothers Dardenne have also made the daring choice not to paint Cyril's father with broad strokes. Guy (Jeremie Renier) is not simply a one-dimensional, child-deserting villain. Rather, Guy struggles with deep conflicts in the wake of the death of his wife and Cyril's mother. When Cyril finally does confront the father face-to-face, it's heartbreaking stuff, not simply because of the father's selfishness, but because of his chronic inability to care for someone other than himself.
It bears mentioning that The Kid with a Bike won a grand jury prize at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival. Though Cannes is notorious for as many misses as hits when it hands out its hardware, here it could not have chosen a better film to showcase.
The Kid with a Bike is incredibly brave in its simplicity of telling a tale of our most complex human failure--not wanting to care for children. If you see this film, and I sincerely hope you do, you will not soon forget its story and the feelings stirred in the deepest corners of your heart.