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The Cinema of the Dardenne Brothers

The Cinema of the Dardenne Brothers: Responsible Realism

Philip Mosley
Series: Directors' Cuts
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    The Cinema of the Dardenne Brothers
    Book Description:

    The brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne have established an international reputation for their emotionally powerful realist cinema. Inspired by their home turf of Liège-Seraing, a former industrial hub of French-speaking southern Belgium, they have crafted a series of fiction films that blends acute observation of life on the social margins with moral fables for the postmodern age. This volume analyses the brothers' career from their leftist video documentaries of the 1970s and 1980s through their debut as directors of fiction films in the late 1980s and early 1990s to their six major achievements from The Promise (1996) to The Kid with a Bike (2011), an oeuvre that includes two Golden Palms at the Cannes film festival, for Rosetta (1999) and The Child (2005). It argues that the ethical dimension of the Dardennes' work complements rather than precludes their sustained expression of a fundamental political sensibility.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-85021-6
    Subjects: Film Studies, Art & Art History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
    (pp. vi-vi)
  4. CHAPTER ONE Responsible Realists
    (pp. 1-25)

    With two Palme d’Or awards at the international film festival in Cannes, France – one forRosetta(1999), another forL’Enfant(The Child, 2005) – the Belgian brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne have joined an elite group (Emir Kusturica, Francis Ford Coppola, Shohei Imamura, Bille August) of two-time winners of the most prestigious prize in world cinema. Their other four major fiction films –La Promesse(The Promise, 1996) ,Le Fils(The Son, 2002) ,Le Silence de Lorna(The Silence of Lorna, 2008), andLe Gamin au vélo(The Kid with a Bike, 2011) – have also garnered many prizes at Cannes...

  5. CHAPTER TWO Cinematic Reference Points
    (pp. 26-38)

    The Dardenne brothers come from the province of Liège, an important section of a Walloon region that was once the Belgian industrial heartland. Heavy industry dominated much of this region and has had deep and lasting effects upon working life, social relations and the environment. If we accept that the region helped form the Dardennes, we may better appreciate their working partnership and understand the content of their films.

    The old regional industrial belt – likened by Ernest Mandel to a line of the Paris Metro and spreading along the dual axes of the Meuse and Sambre rivers – runs almost continuously...

  6. CHAPTER THREE The Video Documentaries, 1974–83
    (pp. 39-62)

    Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne grew up in a middle-class family within a larger working-class community. Their father, Lucien, was head of industrial design at Dumont-Wauthier, a huge chemical plant that for a long time was the economic lifeblood of Engis and with which most of the townspeople were associated in one way or another. Despite an often fraught relationship between father and sons, Luc acknowledges that Lucien imbued in them a sense of moral obligation, so that in a way he is present in all their films. And cultural life was by no means excluded from the Dardenne household; their...

  7. CHAPTER FOUR Foraying into Fiction, 1986–92
    (pp. 63-75)

    A superficial view ofFalsch(1986), the Dardennes’ first and most formalistic fiction film, might be that it is anomalous to a career marked by a distinctive realist style. On closer inspection the film follows logically from their documentary work by continuing to ask questions of history and memory and by introducing the theme of personal responsibility that underlies all their subsequent work.¹ It follows too from the influence of Gatti on their work and from their earlier attempt to relate aspects of theatre to film inLook at Jonathan.

    Based on a play by the Belgian author René Kalisky...

  8. CHAPTER FIVE Breakthrough: The Promise, 1996
    (pp. 76-85)

    One of the first positive signs to emerge from the Dardennes’ period of rethinking their film practice was the creation in 1994 of Les Films du Fleuve, their own production company for fiction films. The name bears witness to the central place of the River (fleuve) Meuse in their work and today the brothers’ headquarters on the Quai de Gaulle, housing both Les Films du Fleuve and Dérives, overlooks the river flowing through the ‘Fiery City’ (cité ardente) of Liège.

    After the compromises ofYou’re on My Mindthe brothers regained a sense of freedom in their filmmaking. As the...

  9. CHAPTER SIX First Palme d’Or: Rosetta, 1999
    (pp. 86-96)

    Liberated and vindicated by the success ofThe Promise, the Dardennes spent the next three years makingRosetta, which furthered their personal vision of realist cinema and their concern with individuals on the socio-economic margins. In 1997, while still teaching collegiate courses and producing the work of others for Dérives and Les Films du Fleuve, the brothers began writing the story of an unemployed teenager living on a caravan site. Even after the startling originality ofThe Promise, few were ready forRosettawhen it materialised from another private and painstaking process by the brothers and their small team. They...

  10. CHAPTER SEVEN Pushing the Envelope: The Son, 2002
    (pp. 97-106)

    The release ofThe Sonenhanced the Dardennes’ growing international reputation. Olivier Gourmet’s leading role in the film brought home the Best Male Performance prize from Cannes. It was the Dardennes’ first film involving their French co-producing partner Denis Freyd, whom Luc calls their ‘third look’, and his company Archipel 35, beginning an ongoing collaboration that includes Freyd’s artistic as well as financial input to the brothers’ filmmaking activity. Following their usual practice the brothers took three years to makeThe Son, though they were developing its script during the filming ofRosetta. At first they toyed with two possible...

  11. CHAPTER EIGHT Second Palme d’Or: The Child, 2005
    (pp. 107-115)

    The Childcarried off the top prize at the 2005 Cannes festival six years afterRosettahad also done so. No directors had previously received this honour in such a short period of time. InThe Child, the Dardennes continue to portray individual lives in crisis on the margins of established society. As inThe Promiseand later inThe Silence of Lorna, organised crime is also present in the form of human trafficking. The brothers also continue to probe ethical issues around the eventual awakening of a disturbed individual to a sense of personal responsibility in dealing with others....

  12. CHAPTER NINE A Minor Shift: The Silence of Lorna, 2008
    (pp. 116-126)

    In the view of the Dardennes, ‘money rules the relationships between us, and it changes things’ (in Abeel 2008). A close-up of bank notes exchanging hands, a familiar image in their films and a nod to the first scene of Bresson’sMoney, opensThe Silence of Lorna. The characters in this film inhabit a world like that of Bruno inThe Childor Roger and Igor inThe Promise, one where everything has a price. It is a fearsome world wherein opportunism and exploitation are the names of the game, while moral principle and human decency struggle to find a...

  13. AFTERWORD: The Kid with a Bike, 2011
    (pp. 127-133)

    The Kid with a Bike(Le Gamin au vélo, 2011) takes a step beyondThe Silence of Lornain refining the Dardennes’ realist style. Though the film mirrors elements of their earlier works, the brothers succeed in the difficult task of presenting freshly and engagingly another set of familiar characters moving amid familiar settings and faced with familiar crises in their lives. By continuing to resist the conventions of mainstream cinema and to combine acute social observation with humanistic allegory, they have mastered the art of creating tough, uncompromising and unsentimental films that touch the heart as well as the...

    (pp. 134-140)
    (pp. 141-147)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 148-154)