If action is character, then young Cyril (Thomas Doret) can’t run away from himself fast enough. The titular “kid with a bike” in the Dardenne brothers’ latest chamber drama is angry and hurt for good reason: He’s stuck in a state-run school, abandoned by his missing father and bereft without his beloved bicycle.
The kid actor doesn’t play for sympathy; he doesn’t have to. Doret’s boundless energy as Cyril is heartbreaking. He is relentless, trying to escape the institution to return to the apartment home he shared with his father. The filmmakers stay close in on Cyril, but the effect is revelatory, not claustrophobic. With a constantly moving (but never shaky) camera, they draw the audience into Cyril’s journey.
One of Cyril’s dodges lands him in a medical clinic, where he inadvertently latches on to a hairdresser, Samantha (Cecile De France). She’s touched by the ferocity and sadness of the boy, and a relationship begins after makes inquiries about his missing bike.
It’s hard to underestimate the emotional effect on the viewer of the Dardenne’s respect for the characters. Theirs is an open-hearted, non-judgmental cinema that does not treat the putative villains—Cyril’s dad (Jeremie Renier) and Wes (Egon Di Mateo), the neighborhood hood—as monsters. (Even though they are.)
The brothers provide the context that makes Samantha’s growing affection for her foster son (and his for her) multidimensional. There is a world outside any one relationship, the Dardennes show us, and you can’t understand the individual without some knowledge of this world. Basic stuff, you might think, but name the last time you saw a filmmaker take this approach.