IT'S POSSIBLE that Cyril is better off without his bum of a father, but that doesn't mean it hurts the 11-year-old any less to learn he's been abandoned entirely. Busting out of his group foster home, Cyril (Thomas Doret) tries to find his father at their old apartment, but dad's long gone—and so is Cyril's bike. His caretakers track Cyril down at the apartment and they chase the boy into a nearby doctor's waiting room, where Cyril grabs onto a strange woman and won't let go. The woman, Samantha (Cécile De France), gasps, "You can hold me, but not so tight."
In those seconds, a connection is forged. After Cyril is brought back to his foster home, Samantha tracks down the boy's bike. She brings it to him, and he asks her bluntly, "Can I stay with you at weekends?" She can't refuse.
The budding anger of a boy who's been utterly fucked over by his father (Cyril's mother isn't mentioned) is the fuel for the Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne's The Kid with a Bike, but the Belgian film deals with Cyril's preteen angst with such sincerity and simplicity that it feels completely, refreshingly potent. Doret never lapses into cuteness, so we're drawn into Cyril's unsmiling but unbreakable optimism—surely his dad wants him back, there just must be some extenuating circumstances. When boy and father do come face to face, it's heartbreaking, of course, but the Dardennes keep it muted, eliminating all threat of melodrama.
Almost every moment in The Kid with a Bike feels fully believable, and if it occasionally lapses into "young-child-in-danger" clichés, it's made up for by a story that feels casual and understated, but reveals itself to be fully fleshed out. Nothing is overworked or overplayed; if the result makes for a sad, bittersweet movie, it's never a bleak one.