Realistic portrayals of children are rare on film. The reasons for this are twofold: firstly, talented child actors are extremely rare and, more often, such parts are one-dimensional caricatures. The Dardenne brothers’ The Kid With A Bike avoids both of these potential pitfalls by giving us a young anti-hero who is multi-faceted and flawed - yet utterly charming.
Thomas Doret plays Cyril Catoul with an insolent charm which belies his years. He’s on screen almost throughout the film’s running time and is never less than completely compelling. First seen trying to escape from a children’s home, Cyril is distraught and distrusting of those attempting to take care of him. He refuses to believe that he’s been abandoned by his father and is even less inclined to believe that his errant parent could possibly have sold his prized possession: his bicycle.
In his attempts to regain his bike, Cyril comes into contact with the kindly Samantha (Cecile De France) and, via a bizarre hugging incident, is taken into her care. It’s apparent that she feels some affinity for his situation and she shows kindness and patience he barely deserves given his propensity for violence and belligerence. Sadly, Cyril is destined for trouble and finds it via a gang of local hoodlums. After bonding with them over Playstation, Fanta and biscuits he commits himself to a course of action which will ultimately change his life.
Although the narrative is slight (and a little predictable), The Kid With A Bike is a moving piece of cinema. Rather than focusing on plot, the Dardennes concern themselves with character, creating, in Cyril and Samantha, a memorably unlikely screen couple whose chemistry and affection for one another truly shines. There is little exposition to explain how they came to be who they are, but thanks to wonderful acting and intelligent storytelling, their unconventional love-story is entirely believable and extremely watchable.
The Kid With A Bike is not without flaws – not least a contrived and slightly silly ending – but has enough heart and charm to win over the most cynical observer. And in Thomas Doret it features the best debut performance from a child actor since Thomas Turgoose in This Is England. Recommended.