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 government housing, of people caught up in prostitution, drugs, or simply struggling to get by.
In The Kid With a Bike, the Dardennes follow a feisty 11-year-old (the amazingly natural Thomas Doret) who's been abandoned by his father - and who's found a savior of sorts in the form of an empathetic hairdresser (Cecile de France). Cyril is determined to find his deadbeat dad, and de France's Samantha finds herself caught up in the boy's sad, determined quest.
The Dardennes' deceptively simple approach to storytelling, their documentary-like sense of place, and the incredible work they get from their actors are things to admire. But it's the powerful emotional punch their films deliver - and this one is no exception - that elevate the game, that make them so satisfying, so worthwhile. The Kid With a Bike grabs at the heart.
The Kid With a Bike
Directed by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne. With Cecile de France, Thomas Doret, and Jeremie Renier. In French with subtitles. Distributed by IFC Films.
Running time: 1 hour, 27 mins.
Parent's guide: No MPAA rating (adult themes)
Playing at: Ritz East tomorrow at 2:40 p.m., Ritz Five Sunday at 5 p.m.
"The Kid With a Bike," part of the Philadelphia Film Festival's "Masters of Cinema" sidebar, plays this weekend. It's slated to open theatrically next year.