The Kid With A Bike, the new film from writer/directors the Dardenne brothers, is a little triumph: fresh, unpretentious and immediate, while at the same time tackling the potentially weighty issue of personal responsibility. It’s a shame that it’s probably destined to be shown only in arthouse cinemas due to it being shot in French but there’s nothing inaccessible or needlessly provocative about it and for me it stands comparison with Kes as a sympathetic portrait of a disadvantaged boy’s needs and concerns.
The kid of the title is Cyril, who’s been abandoned at a care home by his feckless father without even being left his precious bicycle as a consolation. Cyril’s not one for giving up easily however – despite a number of authority figures telling him that his dad has moved on he insists on making his own way to the vacated flat to make sure, and even then won’t be satisfied until the caretakers have let him inspect every square inch of it. This admirable doggedness is Cyril’s defining characteristic, although it does sometimes lead him into despair when he finally realises the extent of his father’s lack of interest him in, or trouble when he finds himself committing questionable acts out of misplaced loyalty to a manipulative older boy. Happily a guardian angel is on hand to help steer him in the right direction in the form of Samantha, a childless woman who agrees to give him a home at weekends, and in contrast to the various selfish and useless father figures that Cyril encounters she’s able to provide him with security and consistency (and even manages to get his bike back). The question the film poses is whether the boy can at last trust someone else to help him.
The Kid With A Bike is exhilarating to watch, for the speed and sense of purpose that the boy moves with at all times and for the effortless way it captures the constant present tense existence of a child – what’s happening right now is always the only important thing, with the impact of one’s actions on other people a remote consideration. The film moves along at the same pace as Cyril on his bike, with no irrelevant subplots included to extend the running time and no scene lasting a second longer than it needs to. Interestingly this pace is achieved without resort to intrusive background music or rapid-fire cutting (many scenes play out in single shots lasting a minute or longer) and you feel there might be a lesson here for the makers of big budget action films as to how to keep an audience excited without assaulting its senses with gimmickry. There’s nothing here that doesn’t ring true, which makes the eventual moments of high drama surprisingly affecting. A brilliant film.