The Kid with a Bike is Cyril, a young boy in care home in Seraing, a town in the Wallonian region of Belgium. Actually, at the start of the film he is in fact without a bike and unable to locate it, or of greater concern, his father. The Kid With a Bike opens by leaping straight into the middle of a story “ Cyril is on the phone from the care home, trying to reach his dad, refusing to believe that he would have moved out of his flat without telling him, or without bringing his bike to the home.
Cyril is a quiet child, at times almost monosyllabic – but it quickly becomes clear that this isn’t due to shyness, but so people are less likely to know what he is thinking and therefore less likely to interfere with his plans “ which all involve running away and finding his dad.
It’s during one of his unauthorised trips away Cyril meets Samantha (CÃ©cile de France) a hairdresser who lives nearby. He’s in his dad’s old block of flats, again unwilling to accept he isn’t around anywhere, when staff from the home come to take him back. He holds Samantha tightly in an embrace in a futile attempt to avoid being returned. But it must spark something in her as she comes to visit him at the home, and even buys back the bike that his dad had sold to the neighbours (though Cyril won’t believe he would have sold it, insisting it must have been stolen).
Samantha develops an attachment to Cyril, and is soon fostering him, having him to stay with her at weekends, but Cyril, perhaps due to his past, finds it difficult to trust and has an impulsive streak that can lead to trouble. Therefore the main crux of The Kid With a Bike is: Can Samantha’s soothing influence help him get his life back on track?
One interesting feature is the absence of backstory “ we never learn what in Cyril’s past has made him like he is, or what has led his father to feel compelled to put him in a home. His mother is never even mentioned. Likewise, Samantha’s motives for letting him into her life are not clear and we meet very few of her friends and family that might give us a clue. The directors of The Kid With a Bike, the Dardennes brothers have said that they were hoping to achieve a fairy-tale like quality to this film and these blank slate characters is one of the key aspects that helps them achieve this. This device juxtaposes with their social realist style which is evident in other aspects of the film, with its real, unglamorous locations, handheld camera work and very little use of music.
The result is The Kid With a Bike is an ever-intriguing movie with a curious mixture of reality and unreality, often grim but with moments of real hope, such as in the long, silent sequence when Cyril pedals his bike hard through the streets at night during a period when things seem to be closing in all around him “ but in this moment he is away from his worries and is just a carefree child cycling as fast as he can.