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The Son (Le Fils)

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Sara wrote:

: Why do you think most of the shots of Olivier were of the back of his head?

Partly to bring us into his voyeurism, partly for suspense, partly for the reason jrobert spelled out here over two years ago (has it really been three years already since this film came out? wow):

jrobert wrote:

: The movie's pace forces us to watch, indeed even teaches us in the

: audience how to watch. In that sense, the film is about how we look at

: the world and particularly the people around us.

Well put, indeed.  If only the film had left me wanting to go on looking at these people.  Instead -- as I wrote when I saw the film last year -- "as good as this film is, and as popular as I'm sure this film will be within this forum, I have to say it didn't leave me pondering its meaning when I left the theatre, the way that some other films have done; it didn't strike me as all that complex, once its secrets were revealed and the suspense had been played out. When it was over, it was over."


"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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I got my copy back two weeks ago after it took a seven-month vacation from me. I'm turning off my computer RIGHT NOW, going downstairs and watching it again.


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Today was Dardenne Day - wrote up all five of the D-Bros flicks that precede L'ENFANT, which I haven't had access to yet. A good day's writing! This is a rather unusual piece, to be sure: not all the pieces in my book will be straight reviews, some veer into stuff more about film or narrative or acting or dramaturgy or spiritual stuff or whatever, and this is an example. In the final analysis I'm sure I'll cut down on a lot of the lead-in stuff here, but will wait until rewrites (and the perspective of time, and the help of an editor) to decide how and how much to cut.

ANY-hoo.... Here's what I came up with for now;

(By the way, you'll see that I've gone out of my way to avoid revealing anything about plot developments, or even the subject matter that eventually emerges. Do you think my tie-in film recommendation at the end amounts to a spoiler in such a context?)

THE SON (Le Fils, 2002, Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne)

The new kid. I can take him.

If you've ever sat through a movie with a child, you'll know the running commentary. "Who's that? What's he doing? Why is he running? Who's that boy? How come he told a lie? Why is he so scared? Is he mad now? Why is he hiding? Is the man going to get him?" And so on.

I happened to go through that stage with my two chatty and perspicacious daughters at exactly the time when I was becoming a playwright, trying to master the tools of the story-teller's trade. And it suddenly dawned on me one day that the out-loud questions of a three-year-old movie-watcher are no different from the unspoken dramaturgical questions that go on unconsciously in every film- or play-goer, whatever their age.

Provided the writer has done his job, that is. Provided a story is being told, a yarn is being spun. The novel has gone other directions in the past century or so, but stage and screen are still essentially narrative art forms, and when you're juggling a dramatic arc or three, you're looking always to keep all the narrative balls in the air


I've posted a couple hundred of my Soul Food Movies write-ups at letterboxd

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Yeeeeah, about to now bump this up from 4/5 to 5/5 at Netflix. Welcome to Masterpiece Week with Persona.

Question: How did we watch those earlier Dardennes films? Anyone? How did we see La Promesse and Rosetta? They are not available at Netflix, but I know I saw them many many moons ago.

Going to bed soon. Will re-read this entire thread tomorrow. Peace out, ya'all.


In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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What a great thread to help decipher and aid in the wonderment of The son.

This has to be the most quiet, and yet most intense film I know of. There's always this underlying tension in the silence and on the backs of heads and glances from the father to "the son."

To me, the ending of the movie, the resolution of it all, is that we see that last shot of them working together. And what are they doing? They're wrapping something in plastic... something that strangely resembles a corpse. Sure, it's just a piece of wood, but that only emphasizes that they will now be building something new out of what has been "cut down" ... the son.

Brilliant. I'm glad I read this far in the thread before revisiting, so that I could look specifically for this. Great insight, Jeffrey, it made the ending all the more compelling.

I do agree with the symbolism of the wood and that they are off to begin to build something new, together.

Again, now from Thom. These are tips that really built my appreciation for The Son.

I certainly don't think Olivier took the boy out to kill him, but there is a sense that he did want to isolate him and hash things out, bring things to a close. And in spite of his compassion, his anger is still palpable, bubbling beneath the surface. Maybe on some very deep subconscious level, he might have been open to the possibility of revenge, which is why in the heat of the moment, his hands somehow end up around the boy's neck. There's certainly a sense that Olivier doesn't himself understand what "voice" he is following. But clearly, his final decision is to offer mercy and forgiveness. And equally important is the boy's decision to accept it and remain in relationship.

I love this place. Thanks, Doug.

Speaking of Doug, he has two pieces published in a new book entitled, "Committed Cinema: The Films of Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne; Essays and Interviews". This would certainly be one to get hold of.

The film's deepest truths don't come easily, nor are they easy truths, easily expressed. But when after eighty minutes of unrelieved tension and unknowing the climax comes, it is wrenching and terrible and awkward and cathartic, explaining itself no more than Olivier explains himself to the boys who attend to his gestures to learn the truths of their craft.

This is a world of doing, not explaining, of action rather than talk, where there are no abstractions, only what can be incarnated in wood and earth and physical human bodies. A potent and profound film, stripped to absolute bare essentials.

Awesome, thanks for the comments, everyone, even those of you who posted years ago and don't hang in this part of the net anymore.

"When it's over, it's over." - PTC.

The only thing I wonder if is he ever became his guardian.

Edited by Persona

In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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Thought I'd post this quote from Paste's Robert Davis as I spent ages trying to find it again the other day:

The greatest pleasure, though, comes from watching the Dardennes treat the simple details of building a toolbox and the limits of human forgiveness as if they’re both vital, and maybe somehow related.

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Watching The Son again tonight, I'm surprised that I never noticed just how often knives are introduced. In the shop. In the kitchen. While I didn't get the sense that Olivier might be entertaining the idea of a murder during my first viewing, it's hard to escape this time through. He keeps reaching for sharp objects as he circles the kid, as if learning his options.

This film is even more intense than I remembered.


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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I wrote a long-form essay for Bright Wall/Dark Room on The Son, which I contend is one of the few films which properly earns the designation of "perfect." This is essentially a non-academic version of some of what will appear in my PhD thesis on the Dardennes' cinematic parables.

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I can't remember if you mention this in the essay or not, Joel, but while watching this again recently I kept oscillating between potential referents for "The Son" (the boy? the son? the teacher?) the same way Jesus' parables force linguistic dissonance around terms like "kingdom" and "reward." In good parables, all of our assumed referents get scattered.


"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

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Michael, I didn't address this in the essay, but I do in the corresponding chapter in my PhD thesis. The Dardennes' films do this frequently: who is the eponymous "child" in The Child—Bruno, Sofia, their baby, or even the adolescent boy Bruno has to save from the river? Who is the titular "unknown girl" in The Unknown Girl—the deceased young woman, or Jenny the doctor? Even the "silence" from Lorna's Silence may have multiple references. Ricoeur says parables as narrative-metaphors are both provocative and polysemic, containing potentially an infinite number of valid interpretations depending on the context they're being "read" from.

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