The Kid with a Bike (2011)

In his autobiography, published near the end of his life, Charlie Chaplin addressed the issue of faith this way: “As I grow older I am becoming more preoccupied with faith. We live by it more than we think and achieve by it more than we realize. . . . My faith is in the unknown, in all that we do not understand by reason; I believe that what is beyond our comprehension is a simple fact in other dimensions, and that in the realm of the unknown there is an infinite power for good.”[1] Chaplin saw in life those things which were easily observable, and everything else that wasn’t. He understood that there was much he did not know, much that remained a mystery even to the keenest intellects. His faith was directed toward that mystery.

The latest film from the Dardenne brothers, The Kid with a Bike, incarnates some of that mystery in the encounter between two people. The films of the Dardenne brothers, from 1996’s La Promesse forward to this one, revolve around an encounter with an “other.” That “other” comes in the form of another human being, and yet, through that encounter, we the audience are treated not just to witnessing an encounter between two human beings, but ourselves being led to encounter that mysterious “infinite power for good” of which Chaplin speaks. The Dardenne brothers achieve these repeated encounters through a mastery of narrative storytelling, concise shot-making, striking performances, and attentiveness to the physicality of their subjects. Their work in The Kid with a Bike is no exception.

The film follows a short time in the life of a young boy, Cyril, who has been abandoned by his father. Living at the local boy’s home, Cyril has a chance encounter with a hairdresser, Samantha, a single woman who does the boy a single act of kindness. From there, the relationship develops, and while Cyril serves as the main character and the center around which all the drama turns, it is Samantha’s presence and goodness in his life that prompt such deep and abiding questions: Where does such kindness in a dark and confusing world come from? Why does the presence of kindness continue in Cyril’s life, even as he seems to reject it (or at least test it) time after time? The Dardenne brothers allow this relationship to play out with psychological and emotional complexity, refusing to offer easy answers. In fact, in one scene midway through the film when Cyril asks Samantha why she stays with him, she has no response. Her motives for her goodness are unknown even to her.

And it is this mysterious grace, breaking into Cyril’s world, played out in an intensely personal encounter over several days or weeks, that makes this film such a treasure. The Dardenne brothers have seen something in the world, even in the lives of people who seem to have nothing going for them. They have seen something beautiful and mysterious and good, something unknown and unexplainable, and yet at the same time, absolutely undeniable.


[1] Charles Chaplin, My Autobiography (Penguin: New York, 2003), 287.

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