'The Kid with a Bike' Review: Subtle Showcase for Father-Son Bond

There is something strangely appealing about the new film, "The Kid with a Bike." Perhaps its appeal comes in part because the film’s name is as simplistic as its title character is complicated.

The boy with a bike is both fragile and tough. He’s an idealistic lad growing up in a harsh world. The film -- arriving from Belgium -- was nominated earlier this year for Best Foreign Language feature at the Golden Globes. Its title character is Cyril Catoul, played by newcomer Thomas Doret.

As the story begins, Cyril is living in a foster home when he learns his father -- who previously lived nearby -- has moved without telling him. That’s impossible, the boy reasons. He wouldn’t have left without giving his son back his bicycle. Even when faced with the undeniable reality that his father sold his son’s bike, Cyril doesn’t believe it.

It takes a while for the truth to sink in. And "Kid" is all about hard truths. At a young age, Cyril is faced with so many of them. He eventually befriends a young hairdresser named Samantha (Cecile De France). It’s strange when she takes an immediate liking to him, but it’s not hard to understand where she’s coming from. Cyril is a young boy whose innocence is displayed as he clings to his bicycle above everything else -- the bicycle that Samantha buys back from a local teen who had purchased it from Cyril’s father, Guy.

Guy (Jeremie Renier) eventually comes back into the picture and is as destructive and cold as one could imagine. In a subtly tragic scene, Cyril tries to spend time with his Dad in the restaurant where his father works. Guy is prepping the meals in the kitchen and trying to get everything ready for the day’s opening, and he pushes Cyril away. But his son wants to stay. Cyril offers to stir the sauces and his father acquiesces for a few moments. But that’s all. In a simple scene like this, it’s easy to see Cyril’s desperation for a father figure on full display. He doesn’t care about going to an amusement park or seeing a museum or visiting a theater. He just wants to spend time with his Dad.

If his father was a mechanic, Cyril would ask for a monkey wrench. If his father was a janitor, he would ask for a broom. But his father is a chef, so Cyril just asks for a spoon and his father is hesitant to even give that to him.

As the story continues, Cyril is faced with the reality that his father doesn’t want to spend time with him. With a rough exterior, the young boy eventually befriends a local thug, despite Samantha’s reservations. And the film succeeds in showing Cyril both as an innocent and as a criminal.

Cyril is complex. He can be cold. He can be menacing. He can be violent. To its great benefit, "The Kid with a Bike" doesn’t simply ask for our sympathies. It just asks for our understanding.

This weekend, "The Kid with a Bike" comes out in limited release against blockbuster hopefuls like "The Wrath of the Titans."

Skip "Titans." "Bike" is a better ride.


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