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The Kid With a Bike

Belgium’s Dardenne brothers, Jean-Pierre and Luc, have staked out a niche for themselves over the past few decades as the international cinema’s pre-eminent naturalists, winners of festival awards (including two Palmes d’Or) and regular audiences if not enormous with their stories of everyday people in their home city of Liège. To learn the title of their new film is to assume that they have chosen to remake or at least tribute the neo-realist classic Bicycle Thieves (or, in the incorrectly titled version that most Americans first saw, The Bicycle Thief).

That’s not quite the case, though the Dardennes certainly assume you’ve seen Vittorio De Sica’s 1948 film. Rather than the story of a father and son hunting for a stolen bike, we have an 11-year-old boy searching for both father and bicycle. Cyril (Thomas Doret) lives in a group home, though “contained” might be a better word—even by the energetic standard of 11-year-olds, Cyril is a study in perpetual motion. His father put him there after being unable to care for him. When he stops visiting, the boy refuses to believe that he has been abandoned: Dad may be a jerk, but he wouldn’t leave without getting Cyril’s prized bike to him. So he escapes the home to find them.

If you’ve seen any of the Dardennes’ other films—La Promesse, Rosetta, Lorna’s Silence, The Son—you may not have much hope for his quest. But then, you’ll also have noticed that this is a bit softer than those films: it takes place in the summertime, unlike their usual snowy settings, and even has a bit of music to leaven the mood. Back in his hometown, Cyril is taken in by Samantha (Cécile de France, star of Clint Eastwood’s Hereafter), a hairdresser, and if this is not a plausible turn of events it is because we find it jarring to be expected to think that a person would do something simply to benefit another person. The second half of the film becomes a fight for Cyril’s soul between Samantha and a quasi-father figure, a local punk who enlists Cyril in a criminal undertaking. Who wins? That’s not for me to say. But for once the Dardennes have tempered their view of the world with a ray of hope, and it’s nice to know that they have it in them.

Watch the trailer for The Kid With a Bike

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