If true art is achieving profound results with economy of means, there may be no finer artists in film than brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne. Their beautifully observed, scrupulously realistic dramas distill the lives of working-class Belgians into experiences that are moving and universal.

With its small cast, minuscule budget and compressed story, "The Kid With a Bike" could have been a minor film. It is a major achievement. The subject is 11-year-old Cyril (Thomas Doret) and the lives he touches on his search for the father who abandoned him to state care. An emotionally volatile firecracker with more energy than maturity, he bolts from school, literally running into a potential guardian, Samantha (Cecile De France, "Hereafter"), a hairdresser. Unmarried, childless, she takes on the troublesome boy as a foster parent and the pair negotiate a sometimes rocky relationship.

The actors are understated, but when the script calls for a thunderous scene, they are up to the challenge. Cyril is a powder keg of misplaced shame and suppressed rage, yearning for his runaway dad; Doret is flawlessly natural in the role. De France, a slightly careworn beauty with the eyes of a Madonna, is luminous as the surrogate mother whose compassion might alter the course of a lost boy's life.

With exacting craftsmanship the Dardennes pare away all but the essentials, telling little while showing everything. The dialogue is spare, but the eloquent silences are beyond gold -- platinum. The film should be required viewing for everyone who has lost faith in the power of random acts of kindness.