Reviews

The Dardennes Collection

1

Six films from the Dardenne brothers

It's by no means exhaustive but it seems apt that this six film-strong Dardenne brothers boxset begins with 1996’s La Promesse.

A story of a boy who promises to look after the family of an immigrant who dies on his father’s building site, it’s the moment where Belgian siblings Jean-Pierre and Luc began to fulfil their own – ahem – promise, setting them on a path towards becoming a dominant force in contemporary world cinema.

Think on it: not only did it unite them for the first time with two of the most important actors in their oeuvre, Olivier Gourmet and a then-teenage Jérémie Renier.

It also set down a recognisable filmmaking manifesto of low-budget, low-key realism that would make Ken Loach smile.

With their dispassionate camera patrolling the blue-collar environs of Seraing, the Belgian steel town where so many of their films are set, it also dug into what is now familiar thematic turf: the moral bonds and burdens faced by the young.

It’s a notion revisited in Rosetta, their career-making Cannes-winner from 1999, in which Émilie Dequenne gives a searing turn as a teenager living in a caravan park with her alcoholic mother.

Likewise, The Son (2002), a sumptuous example of the Dardennes’ ability to mine tension from gestures and glances, builds on the relationship between Gourmet’s joiner and his teenage apprentice.

By the time of The Child (2005), in which Renier’s desperate struggler conspires to sell his newborn son for money, the Dardennes’ status was fully assured, putting them in that elite group that has won the coveted Palme d’Or twice.

Detractors might have argued that their work lacked adventure (“We do what we know how to,” counters Luc) but the film’s pivotal moped chase, which is every bit as tense as anything Hollywood could ever contrive, proves otherwise.

If there is a misstep, it would be The Silence Of Lorna, the brothers’ 2008 tale of Albanian immigrants looking for citizenship, which loses focus in its woodland-set conclusion.

But it was only a minor stumble in an otherwise masterful body-of-work, as proved by their latest, The Kid With A Bike, where the Dardennes coax a gem of a turn from Thomas Doret, love-starved son to Renier’s feckless father.

The only disappointment here is the poor selection of extras.

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