Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site


Showing love to child offenders

  • 15 March 2012

The Kid with a Bike (M). Directors: Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne. Starring: Thomas Doret, Cécile De France, Jérémie Renier. 88 minutes

Once one of the boys, Marcus*, slapped my face. He did it with a grin that quickly toppled into a nervous chortle. I was startled. It wasn't painful, and I recognised it as an act of ill-judged jest. But I worried what wrath might be rained on him by the staff on my behalf.

A few minutes later, I was called into a room adjacent to the one where we'd been jawing with the other boys. One of the workers, Joe, sat with Marcus. They'd been talking about what just happened. 'Sorry I hit you,' said Marcus. No arm-twisting or threats from Joe*. Just a simple and sincere apology.

Ken had that effect on the boys. Aged ten to 14, they were detained for deeds ranging from drug and theft charges to violent crimes. As a weekly volunteer I'd seen the confronting behaviour they were sometimes capable of. Joe, with his burly heart of gold, saw their better nature and brought it out.

Toubled children will respond to kindness that is sincere, consistent, and uncorrupted by self-interest. That was what I saw with Joe. It's also a central theme of the new Belgian film The Kid with a Bike.

Eleven-year-old Cyril (Doret) lives in a boarding home. He's struggling to accept that his adored dad has moved on, without telling him or leaving a forwarding address. His refusal to think ill of his father crystallises around one main article of faith: he would not leave without first bringing him his bike.

Cyril flees the home in search of his dad and his bike, pursued by a worker who is well-meaning but obviously weary of Cyril's brooding and his erratic antics.

By chance, he latches on to a stranger, hairdresser Samantha (De France), as the worker tries to restrain him. Unaware of the circumstances but seeing simply a child who is distressed, her compassion is automatically directed to Cyril: 'You can hold onto me, just not so tight,' she tells him.

Samantha locates and returns Cyril's bike, then agrees to 'foster' him on weekends. She also finds Cyril's father, Guy (Renier), and accompanies the boy for a reunion. Guy, however, is passive and uninterested; his cool rejection is a black mirror to Samantha's instinctive warmth and kindness.

The shattering of Cyril's illusions, which he has lied to others