Ginger-haired Cyril Catoul is looking for his father. He was placed in a home, his dad promised him that it wouldn’t be more than a month, but the month has passed and Cyril’s father hasn’t picked him up. Not only that, his father seems to disappear altogether and, with him, Cyril’s favorite bike. He doesn’t believe that his father could have sold it, it must have been stolen. He also doesn’t believe that his father would abandon him. Determined to find him, he tracks him down unrelentingly, and when he visits their old apartment, he comes across Samantha, a hairdresser.
Samantha buys back the bike that Cyril’s father has sold. She gives it to Cyril and an unlikely friendship forms between then. Cyril asks if he can stay at Samantha’s on weekends and she agrees. Samantha then helps him to find his father, and succeeds in getting his phone number and new address. The three of them meet, but like what Samantha and the audience already know, his father doesn’t want him. Cyril seems to be the only one not getting that, asking his father to meet up with him on weekends, telling him to write down his cellphone number, saying that he’ll come if his father doesn’t show up—stubbornly demanding his love and attention.
Cyril is a damaged child, brought up in a damaged environment. He throws tantrums, he bangs his own head in frustration, he scratches his own face till it bleeds. But he’s not a bad kid, in fact he tries so hard to please other people. One time a local gang leader, who named himself Wes, wants to ‘recruit’ him, and although warned by Samantha several times not to get close with him, Cyril doesn’t listen and continues to do things that Wes asks him to do. When Wes asks him why he’s doing all this, he naively and matter-of-factly answers, “for you.”
We are never truly explained why Samantha takes this kid in. Beautiful yet with a sad look in her eyes, like she hasn’t gone through life without overcoming a few hurdles, Samantha patiently puts up with Cyril’s fits, selflessly supporting him both emotionally and financially. At one point she seems to have had enough of it—she’s human after all. But still, one wonders if such a person exists, maybe life has made us too cynical to believe that there really are good persons.
Cyril is always seen with a red outfit—red shirt, red jacket. He’s constantly moving, whether running with his skinny legs or on his beloved bike. He almost never smiles, but we can see that buried in all that he’s just like any other kid that wants to be loved, and moreover, he’s actually more mature and big hearted than he looks. In the last third of the story we witness his naiveness and maturity, absolutely in contrast to some of the more supposedly adult characters he encounters, whose corruptness makes you reflect about yourself.
The Belgian brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne are not strangers to awards, having won two Palme d’Or for Rosetta in 1999 and for The Child in 2005. They started out by making documentaries back in 1975, and works with what they know best—middle class life in Belgium. There’s a sense of realism in this movie, with its few characters and its lack of music. It is also said that they always have Christian themes in their movies, but there’s nothing preachy about The Kid with a Bike. Only love and forgiveness.
The Kid with a Bike was screened at Europe on Screen 2012, Jakarta.