In their latest film, The Kid with a Bike, Belgian filmmakers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne focus on an abandoned boy and the caring young woman who steps in to save him. When his grandmother dies and his dad disappears, Cyril (Thomas Doret) is consigned to a boys’ home. Convinced his father would never abandon him and sell his bike, the boy tracks down his dad and bike only to face harsh reality. Cyril is wired for trouble and easy prey for the town bully who lures younger boys into larceny.
Although this film has all the makings of a tear-jerker, it veers instead into an unsentimental story about one woman’s determination to tame and parent the troubled boy. Samantha, played here by the Belgian actress Cécile de France (seen most recently in Clint Eastwood’s Hereafter), is a small-town hairdresser who fatefully crosses paths with Cyril and decides to foster him. Like all good parents, she never gives up on him, providing stability when the boy’s penchant for acting out threatens to destroy them both.
This 2011 Cannes Grand Prix-winning film, only now being released in the States, is essentially the story of a boy who faces one of the worst possible forms of trauma—abandonment by a living parent—and learns to trust and love again via a surrogate parent who commits for the long haul.
While this scenario may sound like “Boys Town Revisited,” The Kid with a Bike never resorts to sentimentality or stereotype. Young Thomas Doret in his first screen role segues believably from wild child to wary good citizen. And Cécile de France as Samantha upends this potential fairy tale with her warm, determined portrayal. It’s credible that Samantha’s timely presence is a good fit for this child.
I strongly recommend The Kid with a Bike for ages 12 and up. It should make a wonderful discussion starter in school, library, church and family counseling sessions on subjects ranging from splintered and alternative families to bullying and juvenile delinquency and could be especially useful for foster parent recruitment. In French, with English subtitles.—Judith Trojan