For Cyril (Doret), life isn’t easy. He is eleven years old, and lives in children’s home as his father Guy (Renier) is no longer able to look after him. Cyril’s carers insist that his father has moved house, but Cyril cannot believe them. He calls and calls, but the phone line has been disconnected. He runs away from the home and hammers on the apartment door until the janitor lets him in. There is nothing left, not even his bike, and no one in the neighbourhood knows where Guy has gone. Cyril is devastated. The next morning, Samantha (de France) comes to the home with Cyril’s bike, after buying it back from another local boy. Cyril asks if he can stay with her at weekends, and she accepts. The Kid With a Bike follows Cyril and Samantha as they try to forge a relationship in ‘real life’, and attempt to overcome the obstacles in their way.
The Kid With a Bike is a character-led film, with the plot very much based on Cyril and Samantha’s journey. The script has several conflicts of drama, including the father-son relationship, the surrogate mother-son relationship, and Cyril’s encounter with teenage drug dealer Steve, who draws Cyril away from Samantha and into a shady, criminal situation. The question of the film is whether Cyril, despite all of his problems, can make good, and whether Samantha’s love can save him from himself. The film asks what Cyril really needs to turn around, and inquires into the nature vs nurture debate. Is Samantha’s love inferior to what Dad’s could have been because they aren’t related? It’s similar in a way to another French London Film Festival offering The Bird, in that they both feature a person who is recovering from an emotional loss, in this case Cyril, instead of Anne. Both are helped by the constant of another being, a sounding board to practice having feelings again.
The Dardennes provide us with nonjudgemental observations, and give a sympathetic portrait of the characters, except for Guy. The situations thrown up are undoubtedly difficult for everyone involved, and they show us a hopeful, moving picture about a childs need for love. The film is set up so that every time Cyril and Samantha are having a good time, the audience expects something to jump out and ruin it which might frustrate some audience members. Towards the end of the film, Cyril and Samantha are taking a bike ride together. They eat sandwiches and arrange to have a barbecue that evening with some friends. The sun is shining, and it’s far too pleasant for this to be it.
The characters in the film are well written and developed, but sometimes we want to know more. When Cyril asked Samantha why she had agreed to foster him, she simply says “I don’t know”, and we never even get a hint as to why. She takes on a huge undertaking with Cyril; he has behavioural and emotional problems which she alone cannot fix, as well as the financial undertaking, but we’re never really given a reason why she would want to. Does she feel sorry for him? Is she unable to have children of her own? I really liked Samantha, and I rooted for her to come out on top at the end of the film, but I felt disconnected sometimes because I couldn’t understand her reasons. De France’s performance is very good though, wholly convincing. Doret too is magnetic on screen, whether he was half crazed and violent, or sulky and obnoxious.
The Kid With a Bike is powerful, and moving as a redemptive story about a troubled young boy coming to terms with himself and his new life. His is a redemptive journey, giving us an insight into his and Samantha’s world.
The Kid With a Bike is screening at the BFI London Film Festival on the 21st and 23rd September