“ Genre: Drama / Theatrical Release: 1991 / Suitable for 15 years and over / Director: Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne / Actors: Jeremie Renier, Deborah Francois, Jeremie Segard ... / DVD released 2006-07-24 at Artificial Eye / Features of the DVD: PAL „
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Jean Pierre and Luc Dardenne are two Belgian brothers known for making memorable and artistic masterpieces. They have succeeded in winning prizes at Cannes for 3 films in a row with Rosetta (1996), Le Fils (2004) and L'enfant which won the Palm D'Or and is the film I am going to review for you today.
The film begins when Sonia (Deborah Francois) has just left the hospital clutching her new born child. Arriving back at her flat she finds she is locked out. It has been sub-let by her irresponsible boyfriend, Bruno (Jeremie Reiner). Frustrated, angry and alone, she searches for him - and finds him back to his old ways of begging and stealing.
Bruno shows no interest in the child but is pleased Sonia is out of hospital. To show his appreciation he buys her an expensive gift - he is under the impression that money is a substitute for happiness.
The truth is is that they are poor and now have nowhere to live so Bruno books them into a shelter for the homeless but within hours he is back on the streets back to his old tricks of scamming and making money illegally. The next day Sonia goes to the social to queue for a government handout. Bruno takes off and goes for a stroll. And what happens next will surprise you even if you have guessed what is going to happen.
That's about it for revealing any plot.
Jean Pierre and Luc's films are all about suspense and you need to really experience as much of their work as possible before knowing what the end result might be. Their style is unique. Most of the film's long scenes are filmed in real time and you find yourself feeling very anxious about what is going to happen next. The directors don't really give much information away about the characters in the film. The camera is perched on Bruno's shoulders and we live his experiences, his life, his friendships, his past through his eyes and ears. The dialogue is naturalistic but only gives us snippets of information. I felt very intense as I watched this film and could feel myself being more watchful. The two characters were fascinating.
Dardennes' work is very concentrated and doesn't need any artificial enhancement. In this film we don't see jagged editing, frantic music, special effects, glamorous actors or shifts in perspective. This piece of work is the equivalent of an actual human experience which has a strange curious effect and is suspenseful to watch.
When the film suddenly exploded into a car chase, I was amazed at the fury and pace of the chase. There was no hard thudding soundtrack or multiple camera angles but the chase was pumped with so much adrenalin I was perched on the edge of my seat because I knew what was at stake for the two characters.
The attention to detail in the film is admirable. It is clever how the directors have made the hard hearted, reckless, cruel Brono into a compelling and engaging character. Because at the beginning, they zoom in on Sonia's trials, we quickly learn how willingly Bruno inconveniences others. Then when we come face to face with him we are surprised. He's not as bad as we think. He's not the ogre we think he is - he isn't cruel, calculated, malevolent or destructive. It's more like he isn't all there - there is a piece of his make-up missing. He doesn't understand morality and so shallow is his perspective that he really his miffed when his girlfriend shows dismay after he does something so unbelievably terrible. At this stage I began to question his behaviour, why was he so insensitive and what was his motivation?
There is more to this film than a morality tale. It is an enquiry into the forces that create such misguided people who are like oversized kids themselves. The film makers don't show us the answers in lecture form but give us lots of clues in different frames of the film.
We know Bruno doesn't have the same skills as Sonia to be a responsible parent. Sonia loves and cares for her child - we know that from the way she holds her baby. The only thing Bruno holds is his mobile phone. He is like a machine always moving, wheeling and dealing. networking, striving to achieve one thing only - to make money. Even when he is on his own, standing or waiting for something, he is unable to be still. He has to type numbers in, set up illegal deals. When his 'power network' becomes redundant then we see him compromise and show concern for others.
Another film where a baby's presence highlighted the problems for its owner is Tsotsi. The baby in Tsoti screamed nearly all the way through the film and wanted attention. Baby Jimmy in L'enfant is such a contrast. He is swathed in his cocoon of a blanket and very rarely seen on screen and he has a ephereal surrealness about him. This may seem a little far-fetched as all babies cry but I think the writers don't want to distract us with the cuteness of the baby. Bruno is the subject matter they want bring to our attention - and the forces that shape him.
This isn't a film for everyone and could be considered as being too artsy. I really enjoyed the intensity of the film and the fast pace. The two main characters, Jeremie Rainer (Le Silence de Loma) and Deborah Francois (Unmade Beds) are superb actors and bursting with talent. If you have seen the film, In Bruges then you will recognise Jeremie Rainer as the guy who played Eirik. Francois played Vera, in the comedy drama, Unmade beds, written and directed by Alexis Dos Santos They are not celebrity actors but it doesn't mean they are not talented. Although very charismatic and both good to look at I found myself more able to concentrate on their characters than looking at 'well known faces.'
This won't be a film for everyone - but if you like a graceful film with a human touch then this is the one for you - an efficient, simple story. Some of us may never find ourselves in situations like Bruno's but we may every now and again come across people like him. People who hurt others so badly and try to change their course of conduct. There are people out there in the big wide world who haven't been educated, given the understanding and opportunities that most of us have and this film tries to encourage its audience to show greater compassion for people such as Bruno. A great film of observation and spiritual storytelling.
Languages - French/ English Subtitles
Running Time 1 hour 40 minutes