The Son


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

The Son
"A perfect antidote for insomnia."

There is cinema-verite, there is Dogme 95, there is neo realism and there are the Dardenne brothers from Belgium. What they have in common is a desire to reflect life as it is, warts and all. In fact, the more warts the better.

They are the enemy of entertainment, the scourge of sentimentality. Scripts are a necessary evil, pared down to avoid easy access. Cinematography is basic, style frowned upon and imagination treated with suspicion.

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Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne's debut, Rosetta, won the Palme d'Or at Cannes in 1999, amidst boos from assembled cinephiles. Such disregard for the traditions of the picture palace was hard to take. To be so dark, so pitiless, so honest appeared an insult in this French seaside resort, dedicated to the commercialisation of glamour.

Their second movie does not allow itself the oxygen of controversy and is a perfect antidote for insomnia. Its originality, apart from hinting at a plot through a series of ordinary encounters with ordinary people, is to follow Olivier (Olivier Gourmet), a carpenter, with a handheld camera, so that close ups of his head from behind become the dominant feature of the film.

The protagonist is a middle-aged man in blue overalls, with a neat haircut and little baldy patch. He has a single expression that might be described as pensive disappointment. He teaches a group of teenage apprentices, with whom he has no personal rapport. He has an ex-wife, who works at a filling station, and he smokes. Otherwise, his life appears empty.

There are suggestions that he has voyeuristic tendencies towards a woman at work and after accepting into his class a quiet blond boy with disturbing connections to his past, you expect something to happen. The brothers Dardenne, dedicated to the avoidance of cliché, do not oblige.

Life can be dull, when you think about it. The Son reflects this and remains true to the ideals of its creators. Perhaps the c-word implies invention, which would never do. The brothers are more like stalkers; they observe from the back of the neck.

Reviewed on: 27 Mar 2003
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A carpenter takes on an apprentice who harmed his family when he was younger.
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Director: Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne

Writer: Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne

Starring: Olivier Gourmet, Morgan Marinne, Isabella Soupart

Year: 2002

Runtime: 103 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: Belgium/France


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