After a decade of documentaries, the Brothers Dardenne (Luc & Jean-Pierre) found their signature style on this, their third feature film. Typically issue-oriented, amid the lower rungs of Belgian society, their docu-influenced style, a relentless pursuit of character & story in charging, handheld close-up, can sound unpromising, or turn earnest & didactic. But when their subject fits the frame, the results can be devastating. At heart, this one’s a father & son piece, tough & heartbreaking, about the illegal immigrant racket, played for profit by Dad, taught step-by-step to his teenage son. But their back-alley enterprise starts to fall apart after a fatal accident, and the kid finds that an act of kindness scratches a small questioning moral core he's kept hidden behind rebellious bravado and family loyalty. Steadily involving, developing a near Dickensian power of observation, along with Dickens’ rhymed plotting, the Dardennes really threw down the gauntlet on this one. With remarkable perfs from Olivier Gourmet’s Dad and especially from a 15-yr-old Jérémie Renier. The Criterion DVD also does a superb job with Alain Marcoen’s starkly colored Super 16mm lensing.
DOUBLE-BILL: Films from the Dardennes take poorly to binge viewing. So, hold off on a second helping and head up to UK North for Ken Loach’s KES/’69, another tough coming-of-age story.