Film Review: The Kid With a Bike

the_kid_with_a_bike_1Cyril (Thomas Doret) is a 12 year old boy living in foster care in Seraing, Belgium. He is desperately searching for his father and his treasured bike, but is devastated when his father wants nothing to do with him. However, Cyril meets Samantha (Cécile de France), a local hairdresser, who not only finds his bike, but also agrees to foster him at weekends. This arrangement turns out to be an unstable one, especially when Cyril gets mixed up with a local drug dealer.

During the first ten minutes of The Kid With a Bike, it’s immediately evident that Cyril, at just 12 years old, is already a pretty damaged character. He lives in a care home, has no mother of which to speak and is clearly on a hiding to nothing looking for his father. It’s not a nice situation to witness and is made all the more frustrating by the unfaltering faith Cyril puts in his disinterested dad. Right from the off we’re aware that Cyril’s life is a crossroads and he could take either direction. His bike is the only constant in his life, which is why he’s so protective over it.

This should provide all the ammunition needed to identify and sympathise with Cyril, but it just doesn’t quite happen (at least not for me). Some of the scenes with Cyril and his dad are truly gut-wrenching, but those just don’t seem to make up for how difficult a child Cyril is. He’s clearly had a difficult upbringing that’s been devoid of any kind of parental love, but it’s hard to sympathise with someone who is often purposely irritating, disobedient and, at times, violent. Samantha seems to have never ending patience with him.

the kid with a bike 1

But that’s another slightly contentious issue – Samantha’s motivation for fostering and caring for Cyril are completely unknown. After a very brief meeting with Cyril in a doctors’ surgery, she goes out of her way to find his bike and agrees to foster him, yet we never know why. She’s even prepared to sacrifice her other relationships for the sake of Cyril, which whilst hugely admirable, just seems a little far fetched. It would be nice to learn a little more about Samantha and why she is so dedicated to helping a boy she barely knows. Some may like the ambiguity of her motivations and argue that one shouldn’t be so critical of someone else’s altruism, but it just doesn’t quite feel believable.

Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne provide excellent direction for the film, which gives it a slightly more arthouse feel. It could easily have been straightforwardly shot, but the use of long takes, the odd jump cut and the juxtaposition of drab and vibrant colours help to give it more of an identity.

It’s also worth mentioning the performances from the two leads, Thomas Doret and Cécile de France. Both give superb (and often very physical) performances, with de France in particular really standing out. Doret occasionally doesn’t exude enough emotion in the role, but for such a young actor, it’s a fine debut feature.

The Kid With a Bike is a very succinct little film. It’s not concerned with what came before and leaves us to make up our own mind about what comes after. It also has an ending that some may not get along with, appearing more allegorical than providing any actual narrative purpose, but it doesn’t harm the film at all. At times The Kid With a Bike is a very moving piece of cinema, but too often it feels a little shallow and keeps you just at arms’ length. A little more depth to the characters would have worked wonders.

3 and a half pigeons

3.5/5 pigeons

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20 thoughts on “Film Review: The Kid With a Bike

  1. Nice review. I remember seeing a trailer for this a while ago and thinking that it looked interesting. Not sure I’ll make the effort to search it out though…

  2. keith7198 says:

    Great review! I loved this film. Saw in in the theater and remember being really moved by it. The performance from de France was a favorite of mine for that year. I really thought it had a good amount of emotion and depth. A lot of that does come out in what we never hear – the inner conflict, the things swirling around in young Cyril’s head. It really worked for me.

    • Thanks Keith. I found it difficult to describe why it didn’t quite work for me but I do know that a lot of people liked it a lot. There was just something missing for me. Cyril was just acting like a little shit and I don;t know why anyone would sacrifice everything for a kid like that who they don’t know. Maybe I’m just heartless! Ha!

      • keith7198 says:

        I think it all goes back to his upbringing. The horrible conditions and his lack of any real role model or support structure. I really gathered he was a rudderless ship. And when you’re a child that can set your entire life on a bad course. But that one act of pure kindness can sometimes be enough to turn the ship around.

        Wow! Was that a good sales pitch or what?

      • Haha, good work! I’m questioning whether I actually liked this a bit more now! You should work for child services or something!

        I understood that he had a really dodgy upbringing but it seemed as if he was just being pretty horrible to her over and over again and she would just go back for me. I think I’d liked to have known more about her to be honest. Maybe it’s one of those films I’ll get more out of if I leave it a while and watch again.

  3. Frame Rates says:

    This has popped up on a few Best of the Year from last year. I’ll have to check it out as it is on LoveFilm Instant now!

    • Yeah I saw it on a fair few lists as well. Not sure it would make mine though, to be honest. There was just something missing for me. Maybe I hyped it up a little in my head. Still worth a watch though, definitely.

  4. filmhipster says:

    I’m very curious about this one…heard pretty positive things about it until now. And I truly trust your judgement. Most of the time. :p

    • Haha, thanks! This is one of those films that, even though I didn’t love it, I would still recommend watching as I know a lot of others did really like it. Would be interested in hearing your thoughts if you do see it.

  5. Mark Walker says:

    Good, honest review here Chris. I’ve heard most people praise this no end. It’s good to hear someone pick some holes in it yet praise it’s qualities as well. Good work!

    • Thanks Mark! I was expecting a bit of a backlash against this review to be honest as I know a lot of people really connected with this one. There was a lot to like about it and it did have some really good qualities, but it was just lacking in certain areas for me.

  6. ruth says:

    WOW, we pretty much have the same reaction on this one Chris!! “This should provide all the ammunition needed to identify and sympathise with Cyril, but it just doesn’t quite happen (at least not for me).” Yep, me neither. I was quite frustrated w/ him at times. I think I felt more for Samantha, but as I mentioned in my review, I too wish to know a bit more about her motivation to help Cyril. It seemed like a missed opportunity there.

    • Haha, really does sound like we’re on the same page with this one! I was very frsutrated with him. I just kept thinking how nice Samantha was being and how much of a little brat he was being. I mean, I know he had a troubled upbringing, but it didn’t adhere me to him at all. And there just seemed no reason why she was helping him. I struggle to believe anyone would be quite that selfless.

  7. Garrett says:

    Have wanted to see this for some time. It’s been on my Netflix queue for quite a while, so I should be seeing it sometime soon. Good review!

  8. Zoë says:

    Awesome review! I have this and yet to find the time to watch it!

  9. dbmoviesblog says:

    I’ve heard so much about this film and I know it received rave reviews. It amazes me just how extraordinary successful this film is considered to be, especially since in terms of French production films, it is not really that original.

    • There’s a lot to like about the film, there were just a few sticking points for me. As you say, though, it’s received rave reviews. It’s obviously just struck something with a lot of people, even if it’s not that original.

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