Late to the party: The Dardennes Brothers

Oddly enough I watched my first Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardennes film The Son last night and I’m glad I persevered beyond the first 30 minutes. Beyond that time period the camera calms down, you begin feeling more comfortable with the mise-en-scene (whose long but nauseua-inducing takes give those in Irreversible a run for their money, the omnipresence of the back of the protagonist’s head and the fact that any natural light in the shot absolutely burns through the camera lens.) In reflection I found it to be unlike any other film I’d ever seen, though it still only gets 4 of 5 stars in my netflix rating (I judge all films by what I’d give them on netflix, sue me.)

While the film is unquire, the thought I kept coming back to throughout my viewing was both how similar and dissimilar this film is to those of von Trier’s 90s work. Their visual and technical sensibilities are quite similar in that they are both spartan, but their stories are quite different. von Trier creates faux-realist fables, portraits of what may appear on the surface to be life but are really fantastic contrivances. The inhumanity of the “villians” in a film like Breaking the Waves or the unrelenting and tragic nature of fate and good intentions in Daner in the Dark stand in stark contrast to the hyper-realistic actions, motives, situations and social structures that exist in The Son. The closest American analogue I can find thematically is the work of Rahmin Bahrani, who addresses the lives of a similarly downtrodden class of people but uses expressionistic images, significantly more dialogue and character development, quite at odds with the neo-verite style of The Son. If only the Dardennes’ camera wasn’t so fascinated with the pimples on the back of Olivier Gourmet’s neck they’d have made me a bigger fan.

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