Starring: Jeremie Renier, Olivier Gourmet, Emilie Dequenne, Fabrizio Rongione, Deborah Francois, Jeremie Segard, Thomas Doret, Cecile De France, Morgan Marinne, Arta Dobroshi, Assita Ouedraogo
Running Time: 580 minutes
Extras: Filmographies, Trailers, Pictures, Interviews, Footage From Cannes, Visiting the Locations
The Dardenne brothers, Jean-Pierre and Luc, are Belgium’s most renowned filmmakers. Not only that, but every one of their films since 1999’s ROSETTA has played at the Cannes Film Festival and won a major prize. In the 12 years spanning the release between ROSETTA and last year’s effort THE KID WITH A BIKE, they have won more awards than any other filmmakers in the history of the festival, which includes both of their Palme d’Or wins. All five of the films from those 12 years can be found in this fantastic collection, along with 1996’s LA PROMESSE.
LA PROMESSE (1996)
LA PROMESSE is when The Dardenne Brothers really hit their stride. Before LA PROMESSE, they had focused moainly on documentaries and shorts, with a few feature length films that never really garnered any attention. LA PROMESSE set the template for their films to come, as a realistic portrayal of Belgian life dealing with important social issues. Igor (Renier) is a young boy that works with his father in housing illegal immigrants and finding them work. After one of the immigrants dies falling off scaffolding, Igor promises to look after his wife. However, he is persuaded by his father (Gourmet) not to mention the death to the man’s wife, as she may cause problems for their operation. The film has a quiet heart at its core. Never preaching nor sentimental, we simply experience a difficult situation through the eyes of people that feel rundown. The Dardenne Brothers use their documentary background to great effect as their forever moving cameras pick up the little details that add to the honesty of the film. Themes of trust, faith, and doing the right thing, are played out over the course of the film, but most hard hitting of all is the tragedy we feel from the blossoming friendship between Igor and the widow (Ouedraogo). With great performances from Renier and Gourmet, it’s no surprise they became regulars of The Dardenne Brothers. Their chemistry as a dysfunctional father and son, means you are never sure when to feel more comfortable, when the father is hitting his boy, when he is showering him, or when they work as a team in their morally questionable business. Set amidst a world that seems all too familiar even 16 years on, this film is still relevant.
ROSETTA was the start of the Dardenne Brothers’ winning streak at Cannes, but also cast new light over realistic films at the festival. The Dardenne Brothers stick with what they know, and that’s presenting a socially important story focused on a single individual. Rosetta is a strong willed girl that just wants a job, but holding one down is more difficult than she’d imagined. She needs a job so she can pay the landlord of her caravan site to stop her mother from prostituting herself. It’s tragic circumstances, but without any of the self pity we find in other films. This is Rosetta’s life and she realises how ruthless she must become, after people who are a lot less incompetent when it comes to working, are kept on as she is let go. The camera is constantly close to Rosetta, allowing us to experience everything she does and reminding us of how trapped she feels. There’s one moment where we feel the frustration of Rosetta where she discovers her mother has continued to whore herself out to the landlord, and kept the money Rosetta has earned for alcohol. ROSETTA is dark without being grotesque and uplifting without being saccharine. Aided by a star making turn from Emilie Dequenne, this is actually a smaller film than LA PROMESSE, but just as important.
THE SON (2002)
THE SON is an extremely powerful and thought provoking film that will stay with you for days. It follows Olivier (Gourmet), a man that runs a class at a trade training centre. He takes on a young man as an apprentice carpenter knowing full well the young man murdered his son 5 years earlier. Olivier becomes obsessed by the boy, following him home and watching him very closely. The film is about grief and forgiveness of the highest order. Olivier’s motivation is unclear to the viewer, as he is unclear on how to proceed in regards to the murderer of his son. On the one hand he feels the anger over his son being taken from him and the gradual decay of his marriage, and at the same time he wants to understand where the young man’s motivation lay. Upon discovering the details of his son’s killer’s past, he realises that the apprenticeship is of great use and may prevent this boy from reoffending. Never simple in its observation of the human condition, the Dardenne Brothers keep to their usual tactics of representing the events in an almost documentary style. Music, and dramatic camera work are kept to a minimum, and it is through the story and characters alone that they generate such tension and emotion.
THE CHILD (2005)
THE CHILD won the Palme d’Or in 2005 at the Cannes Film Festival, and it had every right to do so. Continuing with the Dardenne’s look at the lives of downtrodden Belgians, it contains both despair and hope in equal measure. If there’s one thing everybody should love about the Dardenne’s work, it’s the complete lack of self-pity shown by the characters, and the lack of whining from the filmmakers. The film follows Bruno and Sonia, a couple which survives on petty crime and Sonia’s benefits. They’re so hard up for cash that when Sonia goes into hospital to have the baby, Bruno sublets his apartment and lives on the streets for a bit of extra cash. Bruno decides to sell their new born son, but after Sonia explodes at him, he goes to get him back. It’s a tale of survival, love, growing up, and responsibility. The title could refer to either the baby, or Bruno himself. We see Bruno waiting impatiently, so he coats his shoe in mud and sees how high up he can make a mark on a wall, as well as laughing at farts. This is about Bruno’s journey, and the film is filled with such a heart that you at no point blame the young couple for having a baby they cannot provide for. Instead the film gives off warmth and care, which is most important to a child. Delightfully constructed, and even has a chase unlike anything you’ve ever seen, as it is propelled by the tension we feel for characters, and not from shots, editing, and music.
LORNA’S SILENCE (2008)
Once again The Dardenne Brothers delve into the seedy underbelly of the world, but represent it as something painfully normal. Lorna (Arta Dobroshi) is a woman who has entered into a sham marriage in order to stay in Belgium. Now those that arranged her marriage wish for her to marry a Russian man so that he can become a Belgian citizen. The only problem is her husband is still around and a quick divorce may look too suspicious. LORNA’S SILENCE is a bittersweet tale of a not-exactly-romance. Everyone is a bit selfish at first, as they overcome drug habits or just marry for money etc. But eventually they begin to develop and change their ways. Unfortunately The Dardennes take this on a strange journey which is highly unpredictable, but also leaves the viewer with an empty feeling. Characters descend suddenly into madness and big jumps in the story take a while to get used to. It’s still a film that is above and beyond the majority of other cinema releases, but compared to the others in this set, it just feels a bit melodramatic.
THE KID WITH A BIKE (2011)
The Dardenne Brothers’ most recent film is absolutely fantastic, and certainly one of the films of the year. It sees a young boy called Cyril (Doret) search for his father after having been placed on a youth farm. Like any boy in care, Cyril struggles with his identity and looks for positive role models wherever he goes. Unfortunately he is unable to see the help being offered to him right in front of his eyes. The Dardennes balance the story and emotional content perfectly, clearly displaying how easy it is for children to go down the wrong path and seek acceptance from those that wish to exploit them. Shot beautifully, the colours burst from the screen, especially the reds and greens. Doret gives an incredible performance as the strong willed but flawed hero. De France plays the woman who takes him in and shows him absolute devotion and care. THE KID WITH A BIKE is a very important and worthwhile film, which should go some way towards demonstrating the nurture children need without falling into the realm of preachy dogma.
Overall this is an incredible boxset. If you don’t already own any of these films then it is quite simply an essential purchase. It’s rare for directors to stick with what they’re good at as well as constantly remaining interesting. It’s a set that is consistent and enjoyable on so many levels. It feels like a big patchwork quilt, as each film is distinctly different but when sewn together they create a rich tapestry with a lot of character.
Extras: It varies from disc to disc, but there are plenty of interviews with the Dardennes and some with the stars. These open up what the directors were intending to go for as well as filling in some of the blanks as far as Belgian society goes. On THE KID WITH A BIKE, they revisit some of the locations they shot at, which presents them in a different way. Quite a lot of stuff, but I want commentaries and a documentary that covers their entire filmography. I’m also very greedy.