If you resist the art house because you might see a "10-minute uninterrupted take of wind" — as a wiseguy characterized the movies of Béla Tarr online the other day — I have the perfect rebuttal: Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne. Filmmakers with a documentary background, the Belgian brothers shoot in a fleet, often hand-held style that gives their very accessible, deeply human dramas speed and momentum. And I have yet to see one of their movies that isn't as forceful as a gun to your head.
The Kid With a Bike is a heartbreaker even by the Dardennes' standards, a character study with spare, considered precision and lasting emotional force. Towheaded Cyril (newcomer Thomas Doret), abandoned by his father to a state home, fixates on the bike that was his dad's one show of affection. When the local hairdresser (an exquisitely hardbitten Cécile de France) helps him get it back, Cyril pleads with her to take him in.
If this were a Lifetime movie, the child and his savior would experience just a few perfunctory speed bumps on the expressway to icky uplift. But the Dardennes factor in the weight of real temptation, real betrayal, real damage — and, most upsettingly, real consequences. The boy will not simply receive charity like a good little angel. The hairdresser will be repaid in blood, until giving up on the kid seems not just practical but also self-preserving. It's not giving away the ending to say the last shot leaves the viewer as shaken as these characters — as much by the unexpected intrusion of mercy as by the unforgiving fate that might have been.