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Christian for me the transcendental style has more or less meant (reduction alert) the insertion of emotion, transformation, hope....something....that is counter to materialist understanding of the world but nevertheless convincing and seemingly authentic. Because he leans so much on Pickpocket, I've sometimes conflated that with the "sublime" which literary folks will say is tied to sudden onset of overwhelming emotion (Longingus contrasts "persuasion" as the goal of prose and ""transport" as the goal of poetry). That gets messy for me in Schrader because I'm not sure if he means films that depict that in characters or films that produce that in the audience (or both). I didn't necessarily think of the end as transcendent but as we said in Zoom, I had a slightly different feeling about the end, so I could understand how others might affirm it fit those descriptors. 

 

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2 hours ago, Joel Mayward said:

"stasis" as a feature of "religious art in every culture" simply isn't true. But I do think that climactic moment of apparent transcendence within the context of the concrete and everyday is definitely a feature of what the Dardennes are doing in each of their films. Which is partially why the climactic scene may feel unsurprising or predictable, a criticism that has been leveled at the film in a few reviews.

One film critic at Cannes in 2019 described these scenes as "boring" and "mundane" in his review, which struck me as saying much more about him than it did about the film.

Thanks for that, Joel. I do think transcendental style is, in large part, about what it's doing to the viewer, especially at the climactic moment (as opposed to a merely formal debate about what we're seeing on-screen), and it was this feeling, not dissimilar to what I felt at the end of First Reformed, that got me thinking about the application of Schrader's ideas to Young Ahmed.

You brought up my response during tonight's Zoom call, so I wanted to pivot and say that I was surprised at the hostility directed toward First Reformed during the call. I suppose the callers weren't representative of the Top 100 voters, who placed the film high on our list. The criticisms of the film during the call didn't, to my surprise, really center on the film's conclusion, which has been the most controversial element I've read about First Reformed. Instead, people on the call seemed more broadly dissatisfied with the overall film. If I could have countered, I'd have said that while I'm not the film's biggest fan, I find it hard to believe that any film with a sequence as arresting as the body-on-body sequence in First Reformed could have generated so much ill will. Sure, it's just one sequence (toward the end), but for me, it will always be the Best Sequence of the year First Reformed was released. I've truly never seen anything like it. The crowd I saw the film with (a D.C. premiere) fell dead quiet during the sequence, and you could hear one woman, trying to whisper to her companion, say during the sequence, "This is so weird." Which struck me then, and still strikes me now, as maybe the highest compliment you could pay First Reformed, whatever you think of the ending.

Along those same lines, Young Ahmed strikes me as another candidate that has been rather quickly dismissed by some here. I realize some of you who dismissed it said specifically that you want to see the film again, and that tonight's discussion helped crystallize some things that could lead to better thoughts about the film down the road. And that's great! That's what our discussions, on the board or on Zoom, are for, right? But I was looking at the clock at various points during our talk tonight, and I thought, more than once, "How interesting that a film so quickly dismissed has spurred an hour-plus of discussion so far." Maybe the length of discussion doesn't mean much, but I, for one, was very edified by tonight's discussion. It was robust and considered. And it was great to hear from Joel! 

To put my cards on the table after that critique, I should say that I'm not entirely on board with Young Ahmed. I think I liked it much more than some of you, but I think that's in large part because I found the ending edifying and hopeful rather than something that might have been filled with dark intentions. Tonight's discussion didn't change my view, although Joel's comment about multiple endings being shot led me to wonder what, exactly, the brothers wanted us to take away from the final moments.

Edited by Christian

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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The body-on-body sequence you're referring to, while executed in an effectively creepy way, just checked the box of Tarkovsky Reference for me (or, at least one of the Tarkovsky references). It just felt to me like he was working through a list, incorporating a sort of Top Ten Ideas from Great Art Films. But by that point I was already somewhat frustrated with the footnotey-ness of the whole affair. I think I've described it before as like reading T.S. Eliot in a study edition filled with annotations.

But for what it's worth — I'm not dismissing First Reformed or Young Ahmed. Not at all. They are entirely worthy of admiration, study, interpretation, and revisitation. I just find that I don't find them as rewarding or as satisfying as other work by those artists (any other Dardenne film, or several Schrader screenplays). I would hope that I don't come across as dismissive of — or, God forbid, hostile toward — either film. 

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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6 hours ago, Christian said:

I was looking at the clock at various points during our talk tonight, and I thought, more than once, "How interesting that a film so quickly dismissed has spurred an hour-plus of discussion so far." Maybe the length of discussion doesn't mean much, but I, for one, was very edified by tonight's discussion. It was robust and considered.

I think what I heard from folks on the call who were less positive on Young Ahmed with the initial viewing was less "dismissal" and more "disappointment," with a desire to contemplate and understand why they felt that disappointment. And while I didn't say this on the call, my first viewing was marked by a bit of disappointment too, a sense of "that's it?" when the film ends, because it's just so short and intense. But my second viewing opened up a lot of the interpretations I have now about the film (and everyone's insights have only added more complexity to those interpretations!). Still, if I had to rank the Dardennes' nine major films, from La Promesse to Young Ahmed, the latter would probably be ranked lowest. The film is both very Dardennean, while also having these anomalous qualities (the farm sequences, the overt depiction of religion, the absence of some key "regulars") that make it stand out to me. I also think it's significant that the brothers won "Best Director" at Cannes; it really is a very well-directed film, even though it's not very ostentatious about its directorial flourishes, and the jury at Cannes recognized that.

FWIW, back to Schrader for a moment, I argue in my PhD dissertation that the Dardennes' distinct cinematic style is what I call "transcendent realism," borrowing from both Bresson (Schrader's transcendental style) and Rossellini (Italian neo-realism) while remaining distinctly Dardennean (or Dardennian).

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On another note, I am definitely using the phrase "flat niceness" about the "secular" state in my PhD dissertation. The observation that the state-run therapies are genuinely good, yet ineffective, strikes me as important—even with caring and compassionate caretakers, there seems to be a limit the secular state comes up against regarding fundamentalism in this film. So now I have to figure out how to properly cite a Zoom call. :) 

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3 hours ago, Joel Mayward said:

On another note, I am definitely using the phrase "flat niceness" about the "secular" state in my PhD dissertation. The observation that the state-run therapies are genuinely good, yet ineffective, strikes me as important—even with caring and compassionate caretakers, there seems to be a limit the secular state comes up against regarding fundamentalism in this film.

But the farm itself is a state-run therapy (in addition to being a working farm, I presume), and isn't it seminal for some of the chipping away of his resistance?  Maybe this is wishful thinking on my part, as someone who's worked in settings that receive government grants, but I think it's arguable that the kindness of the folks in juvie contributes to the chipping away as well.  And even in the Dardennes aesthetic, the social worker, psychologist, and philosophy adviser came across as warm, not flat.

Edited by Andrew

To be an artist is never to avert one's eyes.
- Akira Kurosawa

https://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularcinephile/

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10 hours ago, Christian said:

But I was looking at the clock at various points during our talk tonight, and I thought, more than once, "How interesting that a film so quickly dismissed has spurred an hour-plus of discussion so far." Maybe the length of discussion doesn't mean much, but I, for one, was very edified by tonight's discussion. It was robust and considered.

I don't think length of discussion means much in this context. Not a fair comparison probably, but Fox News or CNN can spend 23 1/2 hours a day "discussing" something that they've dismissed or had a knee-jerk/superficial response to. That the discussion was edifying (at least for Christian) probably says more about the participants and their willingness to listen/egnage/articulate than it does about the qualify of the film. I remember back when I was podcasting (or even reviewing more often) that sometimes a bad or mediocre film led to more interesting conversation. Part of that is because flat-out adoration is as static and resistant to genuine conversation as straight up dismissal. (Which, to circle back to mass-media examples, is why our two primary models are the 4 hour monologue of talk radio or the mandated debate of the agonism culture that Tannen describes in The Argument Culture.)

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2 hours ago, Andrew said:

But the farm itself is a state-run therapy (in addition to being a working farm, I presume), and isn't it seminal for some of the chipping away of his resistance?  Maybe this is wishful thinking on my part, as someone who's worked in settings that receive government grants, but I think it's arguable that the kindness of the folks in juvie contributes to the chipping away as well.  And even in the Dardennes aesthetic, the social worker, psychologist, and philosophy adviser came across as warm, not flat.

This is a good point, and I don't mean for the "flat niceness" to be wholly pejorative. But it does seem like they're mostly ineffective on shifting Ahmed's rigid position, yes? Which brings me back to Steven's question on the call last night—how many of the events or relationships leading up to the final "repentance" moment are significant or effective in bringing Ahmed to that turning point? It's really hard to discern, which may be intentional. On the one hand, I can see how the film can be interpreted as being a failure of these systems, that even at their best and most kind-hearted, they can't change religious fundamentalists. On the other hand, I can also see how the film is suggesting a both-and approach, where the dichotomy between "secular" and "religious," or "public" and "private," is blurred or breached (in a good way). In one view, the film is very critical of both "religious" and "secular" spheres in their failure with Ahmed; in the other, the film seems to see genuine goodness in both spheres and has a more hopeful vision.

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I think I was one of the folks who used that term "flat niceness" to describe the Belgian bureaucratic state apparatus. I'm reflecting on some of what I had heard about Belgium and their response to both Coronavirus, post-2008 economic austerity, and Islamic extremism on a podcast I listen to, and squaring that with what the Dardennes show in this film. In both cases, the Dardennes and Anton Jäeger on the podcast, suggest it's it's a both and situation: Belgium has unique problems due to their ambiguous national status and liberal institutions, but at the same time it has given them tools to combat it that I don't see in the USA or UK or Germany or France.

Anyway, the point of my saying it was to highlight it in contrast to Ahmed being upset that they are so "nice"! But I think that it does have a positive effect (so I'm with Andrew on that), and that it slowly nudges him in a way that confrontation would not. There's a sense also of the passage in the New Testament of your goodness and loving your enemies as "heaping burning coals" on them; even though I'm uncomfortable with that imagery, it's relevant I think.

"A director must live with the fact that his work will be called to judgment by someone who has never seen a film of Murnau's." - François Truffaut

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I have a question about the the "flat niceness." 

Where do we postulate it comes from? 

It seems to me there are two common answers to such a question:

--Belgian (or European, or Western, or Christian) "excetionalism" (which I think simply pushes the question back a level; explaining by naming fallacy), or...

--That it is a product of cultural/political/religious structures that incentivize and normalize such traits. 

If it is the latter (or if we postulate that it is the latter), to what extent is the state apparatus "Christian" in its origins? Is it possible to retain the humanist values historically associated with Christianity but divorce them from the underlying ideology that fed the structures that perpetuated them? Are virtues -- and the energy it takes to enact them -- sustainable individually and corporately without some sort of ideological underpinning. (Some of these questions are/were raised for me by The Unknown Girl as well). 

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Since this is the Dardenne conversation currently in vogue, I thought I'd drop this link here. It's a good price on an increasingly rare DVD of The Son, which is, as far as I know, the only way to see the movie anymore.

https://www.pricepulse.app/the-son_us_4885967

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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On 5/29/2020 at 3:52 PM, kenmorefield said:

Is it possible to retain the humanist values historically associated with Christianity but divorce them from the underlying ideology that fed the structures that perpetuated them?

Not to keep bringing things back to my PhD dissertation, but this question hits on one of the major points I aim to make: that the Dardennes are operating in a post-secular paradigm which is in-between and beyond both traditional religion and post-Enlightenment secularism. I think they're exploring this very question not only in Young Ahmed, but in every single one of their films: is it possible to retain the moral codes and values of human life, particularly the divine command "thou shalt not kill", without necessarily having to affirm traditional orthodox beliefs? And I think the Dardennes are leaning towards "yes" in answering the question, that it is possible, but are also unwilling to take a didactic approach where their films say "and this is how we do this." I think this is one of the strongest distinguishing factors between them and, say, Ken Loach: both are operating in a social realist vein and with underlying political agendas or views, but where Loach goes for the bleakly heavy-handed critical approach (while not often offering much hope or a solution to any of it), the Dardennes have a hopeful open-ended view, a sense that more is possible.

Back to Ahmed: I'm working on a paper to present at the American Academy of Religion this upcoming November where I draw some comparisons between Young Ahmed and A Hidden Life, and one aspect I want to tease out is the nature of religious commitment or fundamentalism. I imagine many Western audiences will consider Ahmed's religious extremism to be unhealthy and detrimental, whereas Franz is lauded as a martyr for his unwavering religious strength in the face of fascism. Both character are loners in their convictions, where most everyone around them tries to convince them to ease up on their religious/moral convictions, to compromise somehow. In this sense, both are fanatics or radicals—they are both (apparently) willing to sacrifice a human life for their commitment to God. So, while the primary difference may be that Ahmed tries to kill someone else, whereas Franz allows himself to be killed due to his unwillingness to kill, I still have to wonder: are there "good" and "evil" forms or practices of religious fanaticism? When is it virtuous to stick to your convictions and beliefs no matter what, and when is it virtuous to compromise or repent of those beliefs? An obvious answer might be "when those beliefs are right, stick with them; when they're wrong, repent," but I think both films might be challenging such simplicity by showing how the issue is more complex and nuanced.

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On 5/29/2020 at 12:38 AM, Overstreet said:

The body-on-body sequence you're referring to, while executed in an effectively creepy way, just checked the box of Tarkovsky Reference for me (or, at least one of the Tarkovsky references). It just felt to me like he was working through a list, incorporating a sort of Top Ten Ideas from Great Art Films. But by that point I was already somewhat frustrated with the footnotey-ness of the whole affair. I think I've described it before as like reading T.S. Eliot in a study edition filled with annotations.

But for what it's worth — I'm not dismissing First Reformed or Young Ahmed. Not at all. They are entirely worthy of admiration, study, interpretation, and revisitation. I just find that I don't find them as rewarding or as satisfying as other work by those artists (any other Dardenne film, or several Schrader screenplays). I would hope that I don't come across as dismissive of — or, God forbid, hostile toward — either film. 

I have a couple of things I want to address, or expand upon, in this thread, but I also don't want to detract from Joel's question in the post above this one. (Please read it if you've pulled up the most recent post in this thread and found this one instead of his.) For now I just wanted to thank Jeffrey for the reminder about The Sacrifice. After saying I'd never seen anything like the body-on-body sequence in First Reformed, I appreciate being checked. I'd completely forgotten about The Sacrifice! That's kind of embarrassing - I own a copy of the film - but frankly, it's my least favorite Tarkovsky film. I've always struggled with it. The film was restored and reissued not too long ago, but I didn't make the retrospective screening at AFI Silver. I was hoping seeing The Sacrifice on the big screen, in a restored print, would be transformative. 

Back to Young Ahmed. I want to explore something else that came up during our Zoom call - something that frustrates me, although I don't want this to come across as personal. (In this case, I think it was Jeffrey who brought it up, but again, this is a much broader point) What's bugging me is this: I'm really weary of comparison-as-criticism. What I'm thinking of is the statement that, in so many words (sorry, I don't have an exact quote), boils down to: "The Dardennes made The Son, which is a masterpiece. This movie isn't as good as The Son. Therefore, I was disappointed." Come to think of it, regardless of who brought this up, the comparison was expressed by more than one person during the call.

Here's the thing: We all draw comparisons in our reviews, but that's where this discussion started for some of us. Is that a fair starting point? Should all movies be compared to the greatest movie in their genre, or from the same filmmaker? Is that the standard against which films are to be judged? Maybe it is. But I know that - and this goes back years for me - reviews that draw comparisons to this film or that film quickly exhaust me and leave me wondering if the critic is more about making pop-culture references and connections rather than judging a film on its own terms.

So, what does "its own terms" mean? That's the rub. Maybe those terms are hard to discern, or maybe the terms can be sussed out only through comparisons to the best of that film's genre or filmmaker's output. I'm not sure. That's why I'm bringing this up. But I also don't think my skepticism is groundless. Does anyone else share it? 

If this latter part of my post would be better as part of a new thread - "Comparison as Criticism," or something like that - please feel free to move it, moderators. I don't mean to distract from the Young Ahmed discussion. Thanks for indulging this possible digression.

Edited by Christian

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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Christian, I had a similar (unvoiced) response in the phone call to comparisons made not only to The Son, but to films like Timbuktu and its own exploration of religious fundamentalism within Islam (IIRC, I think Jeff made the Timbuktu connection in relation to teaching the film in class). I understand the comparison, and in some ways, such comparisons are a strength, as Ken noted when he described the role film festivals play in our experience of a film, but I think what Timbuktu and Young Ahmed are attempting to do, both in terms of form and content, are strikingly different. So, it seems to be that making a comparison can be helpful in distinguishing how filmmakers might go about addressing the same or similar themes and topics in different ways (i.e. Islam or religious violence), but becomes unhelpful when these comparisons become strict qualitative categories defined by some external common theme placed upon the films. In other words, to say that Timbuktu addressed fundamentalism better than Young Ahmed, and therefore is a qualitatively better film raises questions in my mind about whether or not (a) that each film has the same goal regarding questions of fundamentalism, and (b) why this one apparent thematic commonality has become the defining category for appraisal rather than the plethora of other qualities each film contains.

Still, if we are going to make comparisons, I think Young Ahmed can (and should) be considered alongside Germany Year Zero. That's the film I think the Dardennes have in mind whenever they make a movie, and it's the one I think has the strongest parallels (particularly in the final scene).

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8 hours ago, Joel Mayward said:

 And I think the Dardennes are leaning towards "yes" in answering the question

 

I disagree. I mean with them not with your analysis of them. I think for a generation or two, maybe a century, families, cultures, nations, can retain the values embedded into infrastructures without espousing or believing the underlying ideologies of those infrastructures, but ultimately the dissonance between the the structures and the prevalent, current belief systems will be too great. 

Quote

Here's the thing: We all draw comparisons in our reviews, but that's where this discussion started for some of us. Is that a fair starting point? Should all movies be compared to the greatest movie in their genre, or from the same filmmaker? Is that the standard against which films are to be judged? Maybe it is. But I know that - and this goes back years for me - reviews that draw comparisons to this film or that film quickly exhaust me and leave me wondering if the critic is more about making pop-culture references and connections rather than judging a film on its own terms.

Comparison is a useful rhetorical mode, but it has varying functions. One can compare to evaluate, and it sounds like this is what you object to. (After comparing the two films, I voted for...) 

One can also compare to describe. Reviews are weird rhetorical situation because, you will be talking to some people who know more about the subject than you do and others who know much less (i.e. haven't seen the film). I just had someone ask me, not five minutes ago, whether she should pay to see The King of Staten Island. I had no way of answering that question without reference to comparison. (How did she feel about the other Apatow films? What did she normally like, etc.)

To discuss or even evaluate a film on its own terms must mean something more than in complete isolation, because the latter isn't possible. (I'm now rehearsing the generational debate between Reader-response critics and New Critics.) The musical artists who covers a classic pop hit, records a beloved classical melody, or samples an R&B track, cannot be understood without reference to comparison. Ironically, I asked in my review of First Reformed whether any work that was so self-consciously derivative could be considered great in its own right. My answer is yes, it could. 

As far as the Dardennes, by setting all their films in the same place, by repeating certain themes or plot devices, aren't they inviting (perhaps requiring) us to look at the films not as isolated artifacts but as, in some necessary way, in dialogue with each other? I thought much more about Rosetta during Young Ahmed than I did about The Son, because...

Well before I finish that thought, a tangent. As a teacher and critic, one of the things that drives me a little nuts is are Reader-response critics who just give their own response and stop, as though that it is it. Who record their reactions. I liked it. I didn't. It was a masterpiece. It sucked. No interrogation of their own response, no attempts to understand it. Just a position to be defended dogmatically. On the undergraduate level that just gets reduced to and manifested as, "Well it's all just opinion and this is mine...." The helpful critic is the one who reflects, and I'm more capable of enjoying subsequent films -- and picking films that wil satisfy me -- if I am able to think through what caused my response. Especially if my response was surprising to me or counter to prevailing wisdom. What makes me find Lady Bird shrill or Tree of Life trite and new agey when so many people I know love them? Why do I find First Reformed less pessimistic than Bergman's faith trilogy when the consensus seems just the opposite? Either these responses are grounded in some formal feature of the films that are being read and misread differently, or they are grounded in different responses to ambiguous features caused by our reading situations and interpretive communities.

...like Rosetta, Young Ahmed focuses on the youthful, unlikable offender. It seems to me like The Son and The Kid with a Bike focus more on the effects of the intervening adults whereas in Rosetta and YA, those figures are present but marginalized in comparison to a peer who is more effective. Also, as I mentioned, there were some shots (like the opening shot of protagonist running and shots in the woods, crossing the highway) that specifically reminded me of Rosetta. I've been reading and discussing The Left Hand of Darkness with my book club and we've had come chatter about "thought experiments." I opined that a true "experiment" has only one variable, which is nearly impossible in fiction. So while I see some similarities between YA and Rosetta, I also see some differences: gender, religion, climax in suicidal intentions vs. murderous intentions. My purpose in making these comparisons is to help me (or others) think through how they affect my response to the films, not just to bolster an argument that one is better than the other.

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3 minutes ago, Joel Mayward said:

Still, if we are going to make comparisons, I think Young Ahmed can (and should) be considered alongside Germany Year Zero. That's the film I think the Dardennes have in mind whenever they make a movie, and it's the one I think has the strongest parallels (particularly in the final scene).

I'd be careful with the singular ("the" movie). "[Sunrise] must have a strong grip on our subconscious because we talk about it every time we set out to make a new film" (Au dos de nos Images 147).

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10 minutes ago, kenmorefield said:

I'd be careful with the singular ("the" movie). "[Sunrise] must have a strong grip on our subconscious because we talk about it every time we set out to make a new film" (Au dos de nos Images 147).

This is a fair point, and perhaps "the" film is too strong, but here's Luc in a 1994 entry from Au dos de nos Images: "Saw Germany, Year Zero again. Still the same intensity, the same sharpness. This is our model."  The phrase "this is our model" as they were exploring how to create their signature Dardennean filmmaking style strikes me as foundational for all of their films from La Promesse onwards. Edit: I forgot that in a 2005 "favorite films" list from Telerama, the brothers list Germany Year Zero as their #1 favorite film, with Sunrise as #2.

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3 hours ago, Christian said:

So, what does "its own terms" mean? That's the rub. Maybe those terms are hard to discern, or maybe the terms can be sussed out only through comparisons to the best of that film's genre or filmmaker's output. I'm not sure. That's why I'm bringing this up. But I also don't think my skepticism is groundless. Does anyone else share it? 

 

I share it, while qualifying it with the usefulness of comparison as a rhetorical device Ken noted above. One of my least favourite things is people complaining about what a film was not, rather than what it is. I think it's fair to say, this was not the film that I wanted or needed at this time, but that certainly doesn't automatically make it a bad film. Does that make sense?

 

On 5/29/2020 at 10:52 AM, kenmorefield said:

It seems to me there are two common answers to such a question:

--Belgian (or European, or Western, or Christian) "excetionalism" (which I think simply pushes the question back a level; explaining by naming fallacy), or...

--That it is a product of cultural/political/religious structures that incentivize and normalize such traits. 

If it is the latter (or if we postulate that it is the latter), to what extent is the state apparatus "Christian" in its origins? Is it possible to retain the humanist values historically associated with Christianity but divorce them from the underlying ideology that fed the structures that perpetuated them? Are virtues -- and the energy it takes to enact them -- sustainable individually and corporately without some sort of ideological underpinning. (Some of these questions are/were raised for me by The Unknown Girl as well). 

Back to the film and this discussion. My short answer is, definitely not the first. I lean toward the second to some degree, though I think that it's hard to simply label those values exclusively as "Christian" in any real sense that I would have at one time in my life. I think that it's a really big question of what does the philosophical and religious project that has grown out of Christianity and Judaism look like, what is its trajectory, and what is the relationship between the values being expressed in the films of the Dardennes (among others) and Christianity specifically. I think Joel is doing valuable work teasing that out.

"A director must live with the fact that his work will be called to judgment by someone who has never seen a film of Murnau's." - François Truffaut

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  • 4 weeks later...

Regarding the question of comparison — since I'm the one that was doing that most insistently in the Zoom discussion, let me clarify.

I don't mean to say "I love A, and since B doesn't impress me as much as A, I don't like B." 

For me, it's more like this:

"B left me curiously unmoved. I'm trying to work my way to why. It is styled like other films — A and C, for example – that really did move me. And it deals with subject matter that other films — like D and E — have dealt with, and those films moved me. I can talk about what worked in A, C, D, and E stylistically and substantively. I can't make the same claims about B. Maybe this helps me explain, somewhat, why I'm disappointed with B. 

"Having said that... I can't deny that B is very interesting and very well made. I'm glad I saw it. And I will see it again, fully anticipating that I might come to appreciate it more the second time."

Please remember that in that Zoom discussion, we also began making comparisons and asking questions that I found quite exciting — particularly when it came to moments of intimate touch in the film and what they represented. I remember being inspired by that and saying that now I was ready to go back and reconsider the film.

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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9 hours ago, Overstreet said:

"B left me curiously unmoved. I'm trying to work my way to why. It is styled like other films — A and C, for example – that really did move me. And it deals with subject matter that other films — like D and E — have dealt with, and those films moved me. I can talk about what worked in A, C, D, and E stylistically and substantively. I can't make the same claims about B. Maybe this helps me explain, somewhat, why I'm disappointed with B. 

"Having said that... I can't deny that B is very interesting and very well made. I'm glad I saw it. And I will see it again, fully anticipating that I might come to appreciate it more the second time."

This is helpful and clarifying, and perhaps the nature of Zoom conversations vs. written or (per the Dardennes) face-to-face encounters may affect the perception of how such comparisons come across.

I am going through a personal Dardennes rewatch before viewing Young Ahmed again, but I have notes written from our Zoom conversation. Like Jeff, I was excited by some of the questions and ideas being raised, and want to take another, closer look at some of the framing of relationships and pacing.

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On 5/23/2020 at 5:58 PM, Overstreet said:

As far as "regulars," no — but I think the soccer coach from Two Days One Night is in this; I recognized him at the Muslim community meeting.

Has anyone mentioned that Olivier Bonnaud, who plays the main case worker here, is also the medical intern in The Unknown Girl? I'd be curious to see him in a lead role.

I finally watched Young Ahmed this morning. I like it quite a bit, mostly because it fits into my favorite genre of Dardenne film: Affectless Lead Performance (see also The Kid with a Bike, The Son, and The Unknown Girl). On paper this film is basically an afterschool special, but most of their films are. The pleasure is watching such a precisely controlled balance between realistic technique and expressionistic mise-en-scene.

Critics: The Dardennes are working in the neo-realist tradition.
Dardennes: More paint!

I really like most of the final scene. 90% of Ahmed's character is communicated by how the young actor moves -- I'm sure that's why the Dardennes had him run a relay race -- so I was moved by the stupid desparation of his climb and, midway through the sequence, predicted he would fall. The staging of that shot is great. I don't like ambiguity for ambiguity's sake, but cutting to black just as Ahmed asks for forgiveness is so on-the-nose. And yet, I'm not sure how to improve the end.

I'm curious, did any other former evangelical youth-groupers identify with the scenes of Ahmed alone in his room? The guilt and shame about not learning verses, not saying prayers (having a daily "quiet time"), not properly impressing the group leader? Tribalism is a hell of a drug, especially when you're a kid who doesn't feel totally at home in the world.

ahmed.jpg

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The Kino DVD and Blu-ray are currently on sale.

Blu-ray: https://www.familyvideo.com/young-ahmed-548215

DVD: https://www.familyvideo.com/young-ahmed-548236

Edited by Christian

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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