After stumbling with 2008’s Lorna’s Silence, the Belgian filmmaking brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne return to devastating form with The Kid with a Bike, their engrossing, compelling riff on the Italian neo-realist classic Bicycle Thieves.
As usual for the Dardennes, the plot is slight but loaded with hairpin turns of tremendous emotional power. Cyril (Thomas Doret) is 11, lives in a foster home and is already displaying the volatile behavior and uncontrollable temper common in emotionally damaged children. His father (Jerémie Renier) doesn’t want to have anything to do with the boy: He disowns Cyril and tells him not to drop in on him anymore. Samantha (Cécile De France), a hairdresser who tentatively takes the boy in as her own, can’t break through to him. Cyril responds best to the neighborhood delinquent (Egon Di Mateo), who takes the boy under his wing, plying him with video games and sodas, clearly laying the groundwork for some sort of manipulation.
All of the Dardennes’ best films (La Promesse, Rosetta, The Child) have centered around a specific episode or short time period in the lives of ordinary, working-class people. The brothers find extraordinary drama in the most commonplace of situations, and their protagonists tend to be hardscrabble survivors who have no one else to rely on, people with no place or role in society who must find a way to persevere.
Those qualities all apply to Cyril, who refuses to give up no matter how many times he’s beaten down. This fiery little boy is desperate to be loved, but he goes about it in all the wrong ways, and the movie raises the stakes on him in ways you don’t see coming. The Kid with a Bike puts you through the wringer, but trust me when I say the ordeal is worth it.
Cast: Thomas Doret, Cécile De France, Jerémie Renier, Egon Di Mateo.
Writers-directors: Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne.
Producer: Denis Freyd.
An IFC Films studios release. Running time: 87 minutes. In French with English subtitles. Vulgar language, adult themes. Opens Friday April 6 in Miami-Dade only: Tower, Cosford, Miami Beach Cinemateque.