[Marxism] Films by Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne

Jerry Monaco monacojerry at gmail.com
Sat Aug 5 15:54:01 MDT 2006

The Boston Review this month reviews films by Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne


Has anyone seen these films.  Are they as good as they sound? There
was a time when I kept good track of such things

"When we first see her (Rosetta) she is in a clothing factory, in a
rage because she has lost her job; the police have to be called to
control her. We sense the desperation of this girl as she struggles to
survive—catching fish in the river Meuse to eat—and come to realize
that nothing is more important to her than a decent job and the normal
life it promises, both of which are beyond her reach. In her
desperation she betrays her only friend, a boy who fancies her, to get
his job. Then she promptly loses it to the boss's son. That this girl
is angry, depressed, and alone in the world is undeniable. But we see
all this from the outside, like watching a tiger pacing in a cage. We
may be able to imagine her rage and torment, but we will never
understand her consciousness. Rosetta's day-to-day existence is etched
in every detail. We see even her physical suffering—is it menstrual
cramps?—as she uses a hair dryer to blow warm air on her stomach. One
step up from homelessness, she shares a trailer with her alcoholic
mother. We watch through Rosetta's despising eyes as her mother trades
sex for beer and finally passes out drunk.

"The film, like L'Enfant, has no background music and little dialogue.
We never really know what is happening—we have to surmise and put the
pieces together in retrospect. Here we watch Rosetta make a satisfying
meal of a boiled egg. She lies on her bunk in the trailer as she
savors it with a pleasure we have never seen her express before. Then
it becomes clear that it is her last meal: she has turned on the gas
and is planning to commit suicide and take her drunken mother with
her. But the cylinder runs out of gas and Rosetta has to get another
one. We see and hear her dragging the cylinder with grim determination
across the gravel of the trailer park. Then the boy she betrayed
appears on his moped and embraces her as the film ends.

"Rosetta took Cannes by storm, winning the Palme d'Or and best actress
for the previously unknown Emilie Dequenne. It may seem strange to
suggest that this study of character defies psychological explanation
when so much is obvious. One can even imagine a psychiatrist making a
diagnosis and prescribing antidepressants. Yet Rosetta's refusal to
follow her mother's corrupting example, like the son's decision in La
Promesse, is never explained to us in psychological terms. The
Dardennes pursue Rosetta with their camera and strip her bare, but
they never reveal her inner being. Rosetta is trapped in a dead-end
social reality, and we can sympathize with her predicament, we can
even empathize with her, but we are not allowed to connect with her
completely. She is alone and unknowable. Indeed, it is only in the
last moment of the film, when the betrayed and rejected boyfriend
comes to her, that we sense a moment of connection and redeeming
intimacy. This compelling portrait prompted the Belgian parliament to
pass Rosetta's Law, which provided more jobs for young people.

"Le Fils (2002), the Dardennes' next film and perhaps their best work,
explores the challenge of forgiveness. The back story that the
audience will only belatedly understand involves a couple whose life
and marriage are ruined when a teenager steals their car and then
kills their only child who happens to be in the back seat. The film
begins a few years later when the father, who teaches carpentry, is
approached by a social worker who asks him to take on his son's killer
as an apprentice. Neither the social worker nor the young man knows
who they are asking for this assistance. With a camera that seems to
see through the eyes of the carpenter we see the story work its way
out to redemption. The jury at Cannes may have been thinking about
what they owed Le Fils when they gave the Palme d'Or to L'Enfant last
year. L'Enfant is by no means the best of the Dardennes' four
celebrated films; in fact, it may be the weakest."

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