Today: April 18, 2024

The Dardennes Collection

For nearly 25 years now Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne have crafted an impressive body of films that has confirmed them as some of the greatest filmmakers currently working in Europe.

For
nearly 25 years now Jean-Pierre and
Luc Dardenne have crafted an
impressive body of films that has confirmed them as some of the greatest
filmmakers currently working in Europe.

Mainly focusing on members of society who exist upon its very fringes, they
craft a realistic world which is equally full of hope and despair. Orphans,
immigrants, the homeless and the unemployed have all been regular focuses of
the Dardenne’s. Often their lives are portrayed as bleak, with little
happiness, as they constantly strive to find some stability through either work
or money. Employing a technique invented by the likes of Lars Von Trier and
Thomas Winterberg, they primarily use handheld cameras and natural
light. Yet unlike the raw nature of the Dogme initiative, the Dardennes
choose to use a set of reoccurring actors, whose willingness to dramatically
change roles in an efficient manner is a strong testament to the talent of
their directors. Remarkably they have won two Palme d’Ors. Making them the only
Belgians to have ever won the prize.

Whereas as a director like Aki
Kaurismaki
is willing to have a quirky, sideways look at societies outcasts,
Jean-Pierre and Luc strip their films of any artificial decadence. Instead the
grim realities of the world are laid bare to us. Nothing is ever dressed up.
Comparatively similar in subject matter to Lars Von Trier, they differ to the
Great Dane in the fact that they are willing to show that their characters are
victims of their own mistakes. Not those of others or social injustices. Take
Bruno (Jeremie Renier), from their 2005 film, The Child. An
infantile scrounger who is more than happy to beg and commit petty crimes to
make ends meet. Yet during the film he makes a rash decision that impacts his
entire life. Seemingly oblivious to any of his ills, Bruno is an all too common
21st century male. Life has dealt him a few bad hands, yet he feels
like a debt is owed to him. He and others will pay for his errors.

The mistakes that Bruno experiences are
ones that have been born out of frustration. The faults that take place in the
Dardenne’s first major film, La Promesse though, are ones birthed
through lack of honesty. A much younger Jeremie Renier, once again stars. This
time he plays Igor, a young man who assists his father in helping immigrants
make their first inroads into Belgium. However, an accidental death to one of
the foreigners forces him and his father to clear any evidence of his passing.
This includes keeping his wife in the dark about his disappearance. Racked with
guilt Igor, decides to disobey his father and help the woman on a needless,
naïve trip of investigation. Rather than reveal the truth he decides to endure
a traumatic ordeal. Although not the best film in this collection, the
Dardenne’s earliest work bares all the hallmarks of what would compromise their
later efforts.

It’s endearing to see a pair of
filmmakers who are not only committed to certain subject matters but are
capable of projecting them in many different lights. See The Silence of
Lorna,
where immigration is once again the central theme, as one such
example. Unlike La Promesse, The Silence of Lorna shows the actual immigrants
as those in the wrong, rather than the traffickers. Willfully exploiting
themselves with troubling consequences.

Yet the one area that gives the
Dardenne’s their biggest influence is youth. Their first Palm d’Or winner Rosetta,
sees a desperate teenager meander from job to job in a never ending toll of
rejection and lies. Rosetta is a cold, awkward film yet anyone who has been
pushed around by greedy employers would find some resonance here. Next came The
Son
; a simple carpenter hires an apprentice who had previously spent time
in a young offenders institute. His crime was murdering the carpenter’s son.
The young apprentice is unaware of who his new boss is but the carpenter knows
all too well about the boys past. Tension and overriding anxiety dominate this
film resulting in a thrilling climax. And it is worth mentioning that the
conclusions, specifically the very end shot, in nearly all these films are
immensely effective. They often creep up without any indication but are somehow
complimentary to the otherwise gaunt content of the movie. It’s as if the
characters are breathing a sigh of relief as everything is exposed and laid to
rest. It also showcases the level of genius on display. Lesser directors would
choose to continue the story and reach a rounded conclusion. The Dardenne’s
consistently find that perfect balance between narrative and art that doesn’t
dampen the quality of their creations. You could say they are the most joyous
part of the films.

With all these films and themes in mind
how fitting is it that this collection should be released after their biggest
commercial hit; The Kid With a Bike (Main Picture). Here a young boy tries to find a
sense of peace within his life. Unwanted by his own father and subjugated by local
thugs, he attempts to find solitude in the care of a friendly hairdresser but
even that proves to be tasking. Not too dissimilar to any of their previous
films, The Kid With a Bike managed to reach out to a wider audience that didn’t
just include the critics. Maybe this was because it ended on an unlikely
positive note. A first for the Dardenne’s, or maybe we, as the public, have
finally realised the Dardenne’s talents. Rather than sell out and make a
pleasing, mainstream film the Dardenne’s have persevered with their message. Anyone
who has seen The Kid With a Bike will find hours of intrigue within this box
set. Actually, anybody would find some level of reward here.

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