Belgian writer/director/producers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne capture with heartfelt verisimilitude a boy’s misplaced determination to find a father figure in The Kid With a Bike, a sad and sobering coming of age story told in the European style: no guarantees, no sugar coating, no fidelity to a three act structure.

The central performance from lil Thomas Doret fills out protagonist Cyril with the requisite traits and emotions – confusion, anger, brashness and naivety, the whirlwind of being a punk kid dealt a bad hand – while the Dardenne brothers’ screenplay thoughtfully establishes him as a rudderless youth looking for answers in the wrong places.

Cyril’s emotionally reticent father doesn’t want anything to do with him and doesn’t have the courage to say so. Hairdresser Samantha (Cecile De France) volunteers to adopt him, potentially at the cost of her own relationship, and comes up against neighbourhood ruffian Wes (Egon Di Mateo), the human face for a familiar storytelling device: introducing a susceptible protagonist to a life of crime.

The Kid with a Bike is solid if slight as a slice of life drama or a coming of age film in which nobody really comes of age; fuzzy around the edges and moderately affecting. It works best as an empathy map, charting how a trail of unfortunate events can spiral into potentially devastating grey areas.

The Kid With a Bike’s Australian theatrical release date: March 15, 2012.