Writes Fernando F. Croce in Slant Magazine: Modern cinema's poet laureates of working-class marginalization and spiritual crises, Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne are also bona fide motion-picture makers whose works bristle with the kind of propulsive thrust that would have had pure action pioneers like Raoul Walsh or Allan Dwan taking notes. By the time their rough-and-tumble fable The Kid with a Bike comes to its conclusion, the Belgian brothers have turned the screen into a veritable map of zigzagging activity in which the little red shirt zipping across the frame becomes a visual emblem as kinetic in its own way as the most vertiginous forms in Tony Scott's breathless technocratic canvases. The difference is that a restless stylist like Scott would have zeroed in on this red shirt mainly as an icon to be whipped around a larger design of color and movement, while the Dardennes, tough and ardent humanists with a fierce control of cinema, remain focused first and foremost on the character wearing it, and on the emotional turmoil besieging him.
Per usual, the Dardennes introduce a conflict and jump right in, with subsequent details gradually illuminating the narrative. Thus we meet 11-year-old Cyril (Thomas Doret) in an orphanage office, clutching a telephone receiver as if hanging on to a life raft, with the camera (positioned at his height and close to his face) framing the adults around him as half-obscured torsos and disembodied voices. Despite the recordings he keeps reaching on the phone and the explanations the grown-ups keep repeating, Cyril resoundingly rejects the idea that his father has left him behind, instead embarking on an almost autistically single-minded search for the vanished parent and for his beloved bike. Breaking out of the orphanage, running in and out of corridors and climbing trees and fences, the young protagonist is like a half-feral critter whose nonstop motion barely conceals the fact that he's running in circles, propelled by sheer anger and confusion. It's fitting, then, that the film's first turning point arrives in a moment of abrupt stasis as the runaway boy finds himself desperately hugging a hairdresser named Samantha (Cécile De France) at a doctor's office. "You can hold on to me," she calmly says while counselors struggle to pry the impromptu pietà apart, "but not so tight."
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