The eye of God

Olivier runs a woodshop where he takes in juvenile delinquents and teaches them the trade.  He is a quiet, humble man, dedicated to his work.  One day a woman enters his shop with a new boy.  He needs a job, but Olivier refuses to take him.  He says he has nothing available, but quickly follows after her when she leaves.  She leads him to the boy, and upon seeing him Olivier changes his mind and gives the boy a job.  What are his intentions?  I know what you’re thinking, and if anyone other than Belgian filmmakers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne had made The Son (2002) you’d probably be right.  But they have seen all of those films too.

You might think you know where this is headed, but you're probably wrong.

We keep thinking we know where The Son is going, but it keeps subverting us.  It is slowly revealed that Olivier knows this boy.  They are, in fact, connected by a tragedy.  Olivier has lost his son and once we learn that we think we understand his motives.  When we learn that his new apprentice was responsible, we think again.  But the Dardenne brothers are hardly interested in what we think, and The Son ends in a remarkable scene of fear and tension that eventually makes way for one of remorse and forgiveness.

In The Child (2005)a young man named Bruno is handed his newborn child by his girlfriend.  He looks down at the child, regarding it like one would a gift that they didn’t really want.  Besides, he’s keeping watch outside a store that is being robbed and can hardly be bothered.  She takes the child to their makeshift home near the water to wait for him.  Bruno comes home with gifts.  This will make her feel better.  She is young and doesn’t know any better.

Eventually Bruno deplorable: he sells the child.  He returns home brandishing a wad of cash, which he presents to his girlfriend.

“We can have another one”

As she passes out the Dardenne brothers make an interesting choice:  Their camera stays locked entirely on Bruno as his girlfriend falls out of frame.  It is as if they are as fascinated with this character as we are, as if they found him on the street and simply wanted to find out what makes him tick.

There are no villains in Dardenne films, only opportunists

Bruno eventually tries to buy the child back, but one gets the impression his motivation is as simple as wanting to stop his girlfriend from being mad at him.  It is only in the film’s closing moments when Bruno, now imprisoned, finally begins to understand the gravity of his actions.

The Dardenne brothers’ films never quite go where you expect them to because they are as unpredictable as we are.  Their characters are not devices, but living, breathing human beings.  Often times we meet these characters already in the throes of a personal turmoil that will only become clear to us with time and patience.  It is revealed through their actions, their interactions and their faces, filmed with an unblinking, non-judgmental eye.

Filmography:

  • The Promise (1996)
  • Rosetta (1999)
  • The Son (2002)
  • The Child (2005)
  • Lorna’s Silence (2008)
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