I just finished watching LA PROMESSE, and ROSETTA yesterday. THE SON is an all-time favourite of mine, so it comes back to mind very strongly as well. (I couldn't help but notice how tidy the D Bros production schedule is: 1996, 1999, 2002, 2005. I predict their next Cannes prize in 2008.)
Yes, parents and children. And mentors and apprentices. In all three films.
SOME MILD SPOILERS
, but I'll be careful about major ones...
When Igor's boss at the garage delievered the ultimatum, it struck me that the boy was being offered a choice of two apprenticeships. The work with his father was every bit an apprenticeship into a trade, wasn't it? indeed, there were times when I admired the way the father was passing things along to his son, the way they were working together as a team, toward a goal: very appealing, and so fascinating when the craft he is learning is mostly not
something you'd want him to be learning! How interesting to see the boy growing into adulthood, growing up into the image of his father: we celebrate the maturing, the coming of age, the connectedness, while we recoil from the work itself, and increasingly question whether his father is an adult at all!
Roger's love for his son is evident, and beautiful, however wrong-headed and compromised by a preopccupation with self-interest so profound it is evil at times. How about that scene where the two of them are singing together into the microphone at the bar! The way they enjoy each other, the way Igor is striving to be an adult and Roger is beaming like a kid. And how about the ambivalences of the scene in the car where Roger gives his son a ring "just like mine": the son is so proud of growing into his father's image, receiving his father's blessing, yet the gift is tarnished by the sense that it's a reward for a bad
job well done, and maybe even a seal on his silence about their complicity in evil. How significant that in that scene the father also corrects his son calling him "Dad," having him say "Roger" instead: there's something generous in the gesture, offering the son a certain coming-of-age equality with the father, yet something terribly sad about a father wanting to be "just like" his son (as suggested in the quote you gave us, Doug). And something fateful in the timing of this moment when the father begins to give away his function as father. (And again the misguided "gift" the father has for the son, which we learn to be the context of the song in the bar: how perfect that we watch the "tonight you become a man" scene without anyone telling us what is happening, and without further comment in the rest of the picture.)
And of course Igor is ultimagely given the task of caring for Amidou's wife and child - he is now called on to be a quasi-husband and a sort-of-father, the central event of the film as signalled by the title. Other rite-of-passage elements; the giving up of the go-kart, the repair of the statue (in the very garage where he had been serving his "legitimate" apprenticeship). How interesting that Igor began by spying on Assita in her slip, a voyeuristic teenage thing, and then (in a sense) that his desire is then put to the test when he's called on to be something like her husband - without the sex. To relate with her, rather than to have relations with her. Talk about growing up. (I'm trying to find the section of the film where she talks about being seen without knowing, or some such: resonated wonderfully with the peephole scene.)
Which reminds me how much more intricate a film this is than ROSETTA or the even more sparse THE SON, stripped right down to essentials: ever more Bressonian. As much as THE SON remains my favourite - its themes are closest to my heart, and I saw it at precisely the right moment for it to have absolute impact - I also really appreciate JP and Luc's mastery of storytelling in LA PROMESSE. Simply in terms of narrative set-ups and pay-offs, it is truly astonishing. I think the beat-to-beat construction of narrative is a very under-emphasized, under-appreciated part of this art-form - especially in circles most likely to appreciate the Dardennes, where tastes are likely to incline away from narrative. How I'd love to do a walk-through of this film, looking at the extraordinary plotting, both powerful and understated. These boys are as skilled at constructing a story as Olivier is at crafting a piece of furniture.
I kept noticing elements in this story that echoed the other two Dardennes I've seen, not necessarily things with huge symbolic significance, but nonetheless fascinating resonances that enhance the thrilling unity of their work; in addition to parent/child stuff, vocation and apprenticeship, there's people counting money, poverty / employment / unemployment, lousy accomodations, showers, buying and eating food, mopeds, propane bottles, use of off-screen sounds to build tension (guess where they learned that trick?), hiding things in holes in the dirt, medical problems (Roger's ear, Rosetta's stomach, Olivier's back), people spying on people, running through halls or forests (with cameras right behind them!), betrayals, people pinning people to the ground, physical tasks like rigging fences or working locks.
The explicitly religious elements of LA PROMESSE are more prominent than the other two films, aren't they? The sheep that's being penned up "to celebrate the end of Ramadan." (Anybody tell me more about Ramadan? Ya just can't help thinking it's going to have something to do with the story, yeah?...). The divination by the Africans using chicken guts, water, sand. (What an amazing choice on the writers' part to have the chicken walk right across the body, then use it for the divination!) I'd say if anything about the film feels like it's not "of a piece" with the other two Dardenne films I've seen, it's the African flavour, and even moreso the African spirituality: both stand as something of a contrast to the grey, oppressive, matter-of-fact under-stated Belgianness of everything else in the Dardenne world. Even to the point that, when the film travels to apartment of the African wise man (not sure what to call him), they walk through a section of the city that's actually nice - still grey and overcast but at least modern and not run down or poverty-stricken or numbingly stark - and it came as something of a shock! I remember reading someone speculate after seeing (or reading about) L'ENFANT that maybe the Dardennes were repeating themselves. At the time, having only seen one of their films, I thought to myself "Fine, let them repeat! I'll take as much of that
stuff as they're willing to dish out." Now that I've seen how much they do in fact restrict their focus to certain themes, certain parts of life, I definitely see why people might comment on the repetitiveness or narrowness of their focus, AND I say all the more, "Bring it on!" You might as well complain that Bach writes so many contrapuntal works for the organ, or hope that Charlie Parker will give the saxophone a break and branch out a little - "Have you considered the harmonica, Bird?" As long as their characters are as utterly human and fully fleshed as Igor and Roger, Rosetta and her mother, Olivier and Francis; as long as they keep presenting us with human circumstances and moral decisions as compelling as all the ones I've seen so far, I pray they never opt for novelty over sublimity.
Speaking of those characters, how about those characterizations! Oh my gosh. As perfect as Olivier Gourmet was in THE SON, I personally wasn't convinced I would have awarded him a prize for it: it's so internal and controlled, I wasn't sure it really called for all
that much from the actor. But now that I've seen LA PROMESSE, I say, give this guy all the hardware you can find! The contrasts between the two characters are extreme, yet in neither is there even a trace of performance: just absolutely convincing transformation. Makes me think of the good but no-nonsense waffle-stand owner in ROSETTA, and the head honcho at the train station in TIME OF THE WOLF, and I start to realize what range this guy has.
Absolute incarnational realism in every one of the performances. I suppose I should rave about ROSETTA over in her thread
, but while we're on the topic of acting... Oh my gosh. How far are we into that film before she slows down even the slightest bit? There's a fierceness to the way she walks, digs in the dirt, works with her fishing lines, as if she doesn't have time to do everything she has to do, it's almost as if she's being pursued by something dangerous. No wonder her stomach hurts: mine did.
All for now.
Edited by Ron, 19 October 2005 - 02:09 PM.