The Kid with a Bike (2011)

Directed by Jean-Pierre, Luc Dardenne

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The Kid with a Bike is a small, handheld movie about a kid looking for his father.  It’s like a modern version of The 400 Blows, though a little more destructive.  When we meet Cyril, the spunky 12 year old hero, he is in the midst of yet another attempt to escape the foster care home where he lives.  He searches blindly for his father but can’t see what we already see, that his father wants nothing to do with him.

This is a painful lesson for Cyril when he finally tracks him down.  This happens about a third of the way through the film, making it clear that Cyril’s arc isn’t about finding his father but rather what that mission to find him represents.

Cyril is taken in to live during the weekends with Samantha, a woman he comes into contact with during one of his escape attempts and who takes to the wild child.  She helps him find his father and tries to comfort him when what she always suspected turned out to be the case.

She has trouble with Cyril but never gives up, even as Cyril’s spiritual void is filled by a local dealer, Wesker.  The older boy leads a small gang and treats Cyril with the kindness he hoped his father would give him.  It’s also the kind of unprovoked tenderness that we know is only the first step towards indoctrinating young Cyril and pulling him into the gang.

Despite Samantha’s warnings, Cyril returns to Wesker, even assaulting her as he runs past, and willfully takes part in robbing Wesker’s old boss.  The robbery goes wrong, and when Cyril sees Wesker’s true colors it breaks the spell the older boy had cast over him.  This kind of spiritual bottoming out leads Cyril to turn things around, but a loose end from the robbery comes back to haunt him.

The through line here is Cyril’s search for some kind of meaning.  He desperately looks for his father like a jaded priest pleading for God, and once that dream is dashed he turns to Wesker as another father figure.  It’s only once Wesker turns on him, followed by another reminder that his father won’t be in his life, that Cyril calms down, learning a painful lesson about people and about life.

The film’s final beat concerns Cyril giving up.  Up until that point in the film he had always fought fire with fire, quicker to throw a punch than to consider any alternative.  Finally he learns to walk away and gets some sense of the bigger picture.

The Kid with a Bike feels real, honest and quite painful.  It presents a small, suburban community and makes it into a battle field.  When Cyril isn’t trying to escape a foster home made to feel like a prison (if only because of the degree of difficulty of Cyril’s escape attempts), he roams around a city looming with kids looking to steal his bike and a dealer looking to ruin his future.

Cyril wants a home, and by the end he has one.  He actually has it much earlier in the story, but we understand why it takes him as long as it does to finally see the warmth Samantha offers.  She gives him the type of unconditional love any child needs, but he has to let the myth die that he’s for so long held onto.

So home is a state of mind in The Kid with a Bike.  Early on Cyril is afforded the physical comforts you might expect it to take the whole story to attain.  Even then, however, he isn’t ready to let himself feel at home.  His journey is an internal one, running through his demons until they tire themselves out.

Up Next: Zabriskie Point (1970), The Incredibles 2 (2018), Fedora (1978)

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