ESFS Festival #10 Preview – Dawn of the Dardenne Brothers

dardenne-brothersBy Daniel Barnes

I came a little bit late to the Dardenne Brothers party (by the way, this party has the worst refreshments ever – it’s just Diet Mountain Dew and a bowl of loose prescription medication). Their most recent release Two Days, One Night was one of my top 20 films of 2014, while star Marion Cotillard made my SFFCC Best Actress ballot, and I have already seen and loved their 2005 Palme d’Or winner The Child and 2011’s sublime The Kid with the Bike. However, more than half of their feature filmography remains in a glaring blind spot for me, one that I intend to fill in with this festival.

Jean-Pierre Dardenne and his younger brother Luc started as prolific documentary filmmakers in the 1970s, but rose to prominence on the international cinema scene in 1996 with La Promesse (their first two narrative features, made in 1987 and 1992, have been all but wiped off the map, so La Promesse is often mistakenly credited as their debut film). Continuing in the documentary tradition, the Belgian-born Dardenne brothers eschew Steadicams and non-diegetic music in favor of handheld cameras, natural lighting, long shots, denim jackets, and unprofessional actors (Cotillard was their first “star” performance), and yet within that strenuous verisimilitude, they give a Biblical sort of weight to their characters’ moral dilemmas.

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The Dardenne brothers focus on people who live on the fringes of society, people easily lured or forced into lives of crime or subservience. They paint a brutal portrait of poverty in their films,  especially of the huge taxes that capitalism levies on the human soul. Cinematographer Alain Marcoen shot every one of their films, and editor Marie-Hélène Dozo worked on all but The Kid with the Bike, while actor Jérémie Renier has served as an on-again, off-again muse, appearing in four of their seven narrative features, starting as a teenager in La Promesse.

Mike Dub will kick off the festival on Wednesday with a review of La Promesse, and I will follow with reviews of Rosetta (on Monday, June 22) and The Son (on Friday, June 26), before we regroup on Monday, June 29, to recap the festival and rank the movies. If time allows, I’m also hoping to watch and review Lorna’s Silence, which seems to be the least regarded entry in their filmography. Grab a waffle and a warm beer and hop on your scooters for a handheld tracking shot through the mean streets of Belgium all month long, right here on E Street Film Society.