Think of critically acclaimed duo the Dardenne brothers as a Belgian answer to Ken Loach, with perhaps a pinch more humour in their depiction of hardscrabble lives.
This latest, with its typical Ronseal title, is a low-key rites-of-passage drama that doesn't always go the way you expect. Eleven-year-old Cyril (Thomas Doret) is a problem kid in a care home. His anger-management issues (he bites!) are traceable to his being abandoned by his father, though Cyril literally can't believe his old man has scarpered and sold his beloved bike as well. He thinks dad just "forgot" to tell him. A chance encounter in town with a hairdresser, Samantha (Cécile de France), is pivotal: she agrees to foster Cyril at weekends, and helps him track down his errant sire (Jérémie Renier, a Dardennes regular).
The key to the brothers' film-making is restraint: in the encounter between Cyril and his dad, when he finally faces the truth of his parent's neglect, no voices are raised, no music is played. There's no need, because we are listening to the sound of a heart being broken. Scene by scene The Kid with a Bike is absorbing, and De France brings terrific warmth to the foster-volunteer. It's a difficult role, all the same, given no explanation of why she wants to be Cyril's fairy godmother – we have to settle for intrinsic goodness, but some back story could have been supplied. The film also lacks the unsettling moral dilemma that animated their last film about guardianship, The Son (2002), wherein boy and adult were unwitting antagonists brought together by fate. The last 10 minutes, with a seeming twist in the tale, are slyly affecting.
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