The Belgium writer/director team of brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne have a history of taking on parenting and childhood in a head-on manner. The Kid with a Bike maintains that approach, peeling back the layers on each of the main characters and forcing them to deal with the consequences of their experiences and the rawness of their emotions.

Unable to cope with the realities of life in a foster home, 12-year-old Cyril (Thomas Doret) is desperately searching for the father (Jeremie Renier) who left him without his beloved bicycle. At the outset, Cyril believes that there’s no way his father would have abandoned him by choice, so he escapes to the apartment where the two once lived together. Sadly, he finds that his father has moved and sold his beloved bike to another man.

The Kid with a BikeBy chance, Cyril ducks into a medical office where Samantha (Cecile de France) is waiting for an appointment. He pitifully hangs on to her pitifully as counselors from the orphanage try to drag him back to the facility. Samantha, moved by Cyril’s plight, helps him get his bike back and later arranges to become his foster mother (the Dardennes never disclose any deep seeded reason for her actions, but the emotional connection between the two is soon obvious). After a furious search to find his father, Cyril learns a hard truth: his father no longer wants him. Sent into an emotional tailspin, Cyril becomes an easy target for a gang leader who appears willing to be a father figure to Cyril. In truth, the older boy lures Cyril into violent acts of crime. Meanwhile, Samantha, committed to maintaining a sense of stability in his life, continues the struggle to gain Cyril’s trust.

The audience first meets Cyril at a critical point in his life. At 12 years old, he’s still a child but old enough to understand some of the harsher realities of life. For Cyril, his bike represents freedom and a symbol of the life he had with his parent, both snatched away with no warning. It’s impossible not to make comparisons to Vittorio De Sica’s 1948 masterpiece, The Bicycle Thief. Here though, the tragedy is witnessed through unfiltered behavior.

The strength of A Kid with a Bike lies in its actions, following Cyril as he pedals furiously about town, going where his impulses take him. It’s fascinating to watch. Cyril is allowed to act like the adolescent he is; bothered when controlled, yet aching to be cared for. His credulity and need for a male influence is equally obvious in the subplot involving the gang leader. Cyril quickly agrees to do whatever the older boy tells him, with little or no thought to the consequences.

The performances by young Thomas Doret (his first film) and Cecile de France are wonderful. Through body language, both communicate a desperation and desire to connect that the dialogue doesn’t convey. Doret has a natural sincerity, that makes every moment of the story feel real and de France, who seems to show every emotion in her eyes, responds to him with a realistic ease.

Presented in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio, Criterion’s 1080p transfer is a solid one, doing justice to the Dardennes’ gritty, yet colorful feel and occasionally herky-jerky camera style. Sharpness is largely top-notch, though darker scenes do see a slight softening of the image and loss of some detail. Color saturation is well maintained throughout and flesh tones look natural. Black levels are consistent and the white subtitles are easy to read.

The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix highlights the work of Beethoven as its most prominent surround feature. Sound effects don’t generally expand into the rear channels, but do spread across the fronts. Dialogue has been well recorded, coming across strong and clear through the center channel.

English subtitles are available.

The following special features are included:

  • Conversation Between Film Critic Kent Jones and Directors Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne: (HD,1:13:18) In this extensive interview recorded for Criterion in 2012, the two directors discuss how the idea for The Kid with a Bike came to be, the film’s two main characters it’s themes, message and more. The brothers also discuss how the camera is used to when they work as a team.
  • Cecile de France Interview: (HD, 18:55) The actress discusses her first impressions of the script and her character.
  • Thomas Doret Interview: (HD, 5:53) Recorded exclusively for Criterion in 2012, the actor recalls his first meeting with the Dardennes’, the audition process and the experience of shooting the film.
  • Return to Seraing: (HD, 33:18) This featurette has the Dardennes’ revisiting five of the film’s locations and discussing them.
  • Trailer: (HD, 2:24) Original trailer for The Kid with a Bike.
  • Booklet: The 18-page booklet contains cast and crew lists, color stills, character portraits and an essay by film historian Geoff Andrews.