Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne make great movies with such regularity they can be easy to overlook, but The Kid With a Bike puts just enough spin on the Dardennes’ formula to let you feel their worth anew.
Honed to a taut 80-ish minutes, the film moves at a brisk pace in its efforts to keep up with Cyril (Thomas Doret), whose constant attempts to escape from a state-run group home and seek out his unwilling father (Jérémie Renier) leave little time for rest. The titular bike was a present from his father, who subsequently sold it to pay off debts, but Cyril reacquires it with help from a local hairdresser (Cécile de France), who also agrees to take him in over the weekends. She’s willing, for reasons the Dardennes leave unspoken, to act as his surrogate aunt, but Cyril keeps looking for fathers, both his own and, failing that, an older boy who heads up a local gang.
From its title to the sideways tracking shots that follow Cyril’s headlong flight, The Kid With a Bike is embedded in homage to Bicycle Thieves and The 400 Blows, but the deeply Christian Dardennes are more concerned with redemption than tragic romance. There’s a way out, but it’s earned with blood, and it doesn’t lead where anyone might wish.