My primary expectation of cinema is that it should give you a little something you can’t get at home. So if you offer me a film featuring a little Rooney-faced scrote getting up to mischief on his bicycle, my instinct is to stay at home and look out the window.

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The film is, for the most part, as blunt and functional as its title. The kid (Thomas Doret) has been abandoned by his father (Jérémie Renier) in a care home. He’s even sold his precious bicycle. His only hope is a local hairdresser (Cécile de France) who reunites him with his bike and agrees to foster him at weekends.

The scene is set for a moving, but rigorously unsentimental, social realist drama in which the two will slowly come to understand each other. Which is what you get; but from a distance.

The Brothers Dardenne are among the most acclaimed directors in all Europe and it can seem as if they turn up at Cannes every few years to pick up their latest award with the same casual sense of entitlement as a Gallagher family member (“Shameless” Gallaghers, not Oasis) collecting a benefit cheque.

Their films poke around in the margins of Belgium society but don’t go in expecting Ken Loach with subtitles. Theirs is a brusque naturalism, cut to the bone. You can see the quality, the care they take with the actors and in framing the shots, but you may not feel it.

In any other film your heart would go out to the poor little mite – rejected by his father, fighting hard to retain his wheels and trying to find a position in the world – but not here. I am grateful for films that don’t dictate an emotional response but something in this film rankled. The Dardennes assume a position that is part-social worker, part-Greek Chorus: they observe but don’t get involved.

THE KID WITH A BIKE (12A)

Directors: Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne

Starring: Thomas Doret, Cécile de France, Jérémie Renier, Fabrizio Rongione, Egon Di Mateo and Olivier Gourmet

Length: 85 mins

***

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