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Christine Plenus
Samantha (Cécile de France) and Cyril (Thomas Doret) in Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne's "The Kid with a Bike."

"THE KID WITH A BIKE" — ★★★ — Cecile de France, Thomas Doret, Jeremie Renier, Fabrizio Rongione; PG-13 (thematic elements, violence, brief language and smoking, in French with English subtitles); Broadway

The title character of the Dardenne brothers' "The Kid with a Bike" is an 11-year-old boy who almost never smiles; life, it seems, has removed all softness from this child, leaving only sinew and determination.

Cyril (Thomas Doret) is parentless and living in a children's home: his mother has (presumably) died; his father (Dardenne regular Jeremie Renier) wants nothing to do with him. (Being around his son "stresses me out," he says.) Refusing to believe his father has abandoned him and sold his beloved bike, Cyril desperately hangs around the apartment he formerly shared with his father — and, entirely by accident, meets his guardian angel. Samantha (Cecile de France), a kind hairdresser, takes him into her home, for reasons never spelled out; maybe it's just goodness.

Shot with handheld intimacy and the Dardennes' usual unprettied realism, "The Kid with a Bike" lets us follow Cyril as he pedals around his town. (Samantha, early in the film, helps him get the bike back — the father, a candidate for cinema's worst parent, did indeed sell it.) Hunched over the handlebars, the boy's body seems to carve a hole in the wind. And we watch as this unhappy, rejected child makes some terrible choices, some of which make us want to look away.

But unlike many of the Dardennes' previous films ("The Child," "The Son," "Lorna's Silence"), the Cannes Film Festival award-winning "The Kid with a Bike" has an element of hope; letting us imagine that perhaps against all odds, Samantha and Cyril will become a team, erasing at least some of the pain caused by Cyril's cold-eyed father. Near the end, we hear some unexpectedly beautiful symphonic music as Cyril rides his bike, and it seems to bathe him (and us) in comfort — perhaps the place to which Cyril is furiously pedaling will turn out, somehow, to be the right one.

"The Kid with a Bike" is rated PG-13 for thematic elements, violence, brief language and smoking; in French with English subtitles; running time 87 minutes.