Belgian filmmakers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardennes make quietly haunting films. The majority of North American movie-goers haven't even heard of the Dardennes brothers, let alone seen one of their masterful meditations on grace. They make simple, affecting films that are like a snapshot of ordinary life, and the extraordinary moments that happen throughout. Like the kingdom of God, their films are worth seeking. (Go check out The Son (2002) and The Child (2005), my two Dardennes favorites.)
The Kid with a Bike centers on Cyril, a boy entering adolescence with restlessness and rage. This snapshot opens in an orphanage as Cyril pleads with the director to try calling his absentee father, to no avail. There is no answer on the other line; the number has been disconnected. Like so many young people in our culture, the dial tone of a disconnected line is a small picture of the systemic abandonment Cyril experiences. He is searching for a place to belong, a person to belong to. That person should be his father, but the man hasn't left adolescence himself. When Cyril finally finds his father, the man is a cook working for his new girlfriend's restaurant, living paycheck to paycheck and moment to moment. There is no place for Cyril to belong here. His father doesn't want him around.
So Cyril runs. Whether due to his circumstances or part of his very nature, Cyril has a rambunctious and defiant spirit. He bites the helpers at the orphanage when they try to stop his search. He flees on foot, on bike, always moving, always searching for a place to call home. He collides with people along the way, including Samantha, a warmhearted hairdresser who compassionately takes Cyril into her home.
Samantha offers Cyril more than a roof over his head; she gives him her home and her heart. While flawed and misguided at times, she is relentless in her unconditional love and pursuit of Cyril. Cyril's habits of fleeing or fighting don't magically disappear with this newfound relationship with Samantha. He injures her, both emotionally and physically. Why does she continue to extend grace to this kid? Why does she even bother to let him into her heart? Cyril demands these questions from her, and she can offer only a quiet shrug: she doesn't know. We are not given clear reasons for her grace; we only know that grace is.
A local teenage drug dealer takes Cyril under his wing, offers him protection and a sense of purpose. Samantha doesn't approve, and stands in the way of Cyril as he attempts to meet up with the dealer. Their standoff and struggle is affectingly realistic, with an awkward-yet-brutal wrestling match that occurs between a fierce boy and a motherly hairdresser. Cyril continues to run from grace and delve into sin and temptation, finding a pseudo-father figure in the dealer. When the dealer forces Cyril to commit a violent crime, we weep for his choices and the consequences that ensue. Cyril is lost, and we hope that he is soon found.
I am Samantha. I have encountered dozens of Cyrils in my own life, many of whom have wounded my heart as the grace that was offered came back to bite me. I recognize that the vocation I have chosen--a pastor to young people--comes with a cost. As I enter into the mess of another person's broken life and stand with them in the thick of it, I too am broken. Grace is a messy business. I know the cost of unconditional love.
I am also Cyril, searching and striving for a place to belong, fleeing from God's relentless grace only to be greeted with joy upon my return. I know what it looks like to follow temptation into sin and feel the stinging regret of poor decisions. I know what it is like to seethe with anger because of the painful and uncontrollable circumstances that life has wrought. I know what it means to be lost.
The Kid with a Bike is The 400 Blows meets Bicycle Thieves meets the grace of God. Quiet, meditative, with only a few moments of symphonic musical swells as soundtracks for the audience's catharsis. As Cyril rushes through the city on his bike, his vermillion shirt waving in the wind as his fierce eyes scan the horizon, I am seeing a picture of the prodigal son searching for his home. The father rushes to greet him--to greet me--and exclaims, "what once was lost has now been found. Welcome home." The kingdom is for the little ones such as these.