A version of this review appeared in October during coverage of the Philadelphia Film Festival.
Belgian brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne are responsible for some bracing pieces of social realism - La Promesse, Lorna's Silence, The Child - films that explore the bleak terrain of trailer parks and public housing, of people caught up in prostitution, drugs, or simply struggling to get by. Damaged souls, looking for a life.
In The Kid With a Bike, the Dardennes train their camera on a fiercely determined 11-year-old, Cyril (an amazingly unself-conscious Thomas Doret), who has been abandoned by his father - and who finds a savior in the form of an empathetic hairdresser (Cecile de France). Cyril, trapped in a foster home, is determined to track down his deadbeat dad, and de France's Samantha, his guardian angel, gets caught up in the boy's sad, determined - and, it turns out, dangerous - quest.
The Dardennes' deceptively simple approach to storytelling, their attentiveness to place and people, and the incredible work they get from their actors are things to admire. Their films resonate on a deep emotional level - and The Kid With a Bike is no exception. The journey Cyril takes, and the help he gets from de France's Samantha - a woman whose own childhood, clearly, was permeated with pain - is a hard one. But it's uplifting, too, with moments of magic and grace. The Kid With a Bike grabs at the heart.