The Dardenne brothers specialise in low-key devastation. The way that they work is to refine their style further and further with every film, sanding down every element, until they arrive at something completely pure. Their films are so bare, sparse and intense that it seems paradoxical to use this many words to describe them. Films good. You watch.
This way of working is reflected in the cast and crew – they find what works, stick with it, and purify it. Their DoP Alain Marcoen returns, as does their editor Marie-Hélène Dozo. Olivier Gourmet also returns as Olivier, a joinery teacher in a rehabilitation centre for troubled youths. The theme of ethical quandaries involving troubled teens is explored again, and the trade off between so-called correct and expected behaviour, and how one’s beliefs can be affected by outside pressure.
When Francis (Morgan Marinne), a new recruit, asks to join his carpentry course, Olivier refuses. He has second thoughts when some news about his ex-wife comes to him, and Olivier’s reasons for initially rejecting the troubled Francis gradually come to the fore over the course of the movie. What results is a startlingly affecting journey into grief and the effects that a completely destructive act can have on somebody, and the way that it might echo throughout the rest of their life.
It has the tension of the Dardenne brother’s previous film Rosetta, combined with the uncompromising banality of a Mike Leigh film. It’s not showy enough to be called a psychological thriller, but that is the effect that it has as you watch it. Gourmet is so hypnotising as Olivier that in the end the events of the film become memories, something that happened to a friend of a friend. For this performance he was a deserving winner of Best Actor at the 2002 Cannes film festival, and was the Belgian entry for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, but was somehow not nominated. Nowhere in Africa won Best Foreign Language Film that year, remember how good that film was? No? Neither does anybody.
Just like most other films by the brothers Dardenne, The Son sort of just ends. The story has something of a small emotional conclusion but there’s no massive cathartic pay-off, just like life. Life has no slowly gathering round of applause, and this film is life. That might bother some people, but those people aren’t good enough for you. You’re reading an independent movie blog. You’re better than them. You need this film. You go. Watch now.
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