Abandoned by his feckless dad (Jérémie Renier), 12-year-old Cyril (Thomas Doret) lives in a state-run home and is fostered on weekends by hairdresser Samantha (Cécile de France).
Days are spent looking for his ‘stolen’ bike (his dad sold it), and, indeed, his father, as he inexorably gravitates towards delinquency.
The Kid With A Bike sees Belgian brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne (Rosetta, L’Enfant) again set the action in their childhood town of Seraing, dealing with working-class protagonists whose everyday travails take on biblical dimensions: crime and punishment, forgiveness and redemption.
It’s the brothers on home turf, but it’s also their brightest film to date. A careful optimism informs the action, while the summer setting allows for atypically warm and colourful photography, with, at times, a fairytale lilt to the social-realism.
Kid is also a film of perpetual motion, the handheld camera tracking Cyril as he scrabbles about town by foot or bike (he gets it back – the clue’s in the title).
Shots of him pedaling like a madman, jacket billowing, locate beauty and liberation amid the supermarkets, housing estates, petrol stations and scrublands, and potentially static dinner-table scenes are energized by a twitching camera and the constant drone of unseen traffic.
Best of all is a foot chase through a patch of woodland: no whip-pans, no swooping cameras, yet more suspense than Michael Bay could ever muster.
Longtime connoisseurs of capturing naturalistic, mesmerising turns from non-actors, the sibling filmmakers tease enough out of Doret – anguish, confusion, hope, fear, hate, love – to carry their film.
Renier, a Dardennes regular, fleetingly but ably supports him, while de France conveys tremendous emotion with a single kiss to the top of his head.
As ever with the Dardennes, this is a film devoid of sentiment and melodrama that is all the more vital and compassionate for it.
Good enough to survive evoking Bicycle Thieves and The 400 Blows, this small story contains universal truths, told with irresistible force.