May 26, 2011 / Filmwell
Kenji Koiso has his summer vacation all planned out: he and his friend Sakuma have …
May 27, 2009
That’s it. I’m moving to Manhattan. This afternoon. Friday at the latest.
Today the Film Society of Lincoln Centre launches “Beyond L’Enfant: The Complete Dardenne Brothers” with two screenings and the opening of an exhibition of photographs by Christine Plenus, the Dardenne set photographer. Friday night is The Big Event, as Kent Jones hosts a conversation with Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, “an intimate look at their lives behind the lens.” (Sounds a bit People Magazine, don’t you think? Got a hunch it won’t be.)
Series continues through June 2 with screenings of the Belgian Bros’ masterpieces Rosetta, La Promesse, Le Fils – as well as many of their early documentary films;
Lorsque le bateau de Léon M. descendit la Meuse pour la première fois (1979, 40 min)
Pour que la guerre s’achève, les murs devaient s’écrouter (1980, 52 min)
R… ne répond plus (1981, 52 min)
Leçons d’une université volante (1982, 55 min)
Regard Jonathan. Jean Louvet, son oeuvre (1983, 57 min)
Falsch (1983, 82 min)
Il court… il court le monde (1987, 10 min)
Je Pense à vous (1992, 95 min)
La Promesse (“The Promise” 1996, 90 min)
Rosetta (1999, 95 min)
Le Fils (“The Son” 2002, 103 min)
L’Enfant (“The Child” 2005, 100 min)
Curiously, it looks like pretty much the only film that won’t be playing the Walter Reade will be the Dardennes’ most recent, their 2008 Cannes entry Lorna’s Silence (“Le Silence de Lorna” 2008) – or, I suppose, the brilliant short they created for the 2007 festival, Dans l’Obscurite. (Anybody wonder if there’s a masters thesis in there somewhere? Silence, darkness, Belgium…)
Lorna didn’t receive the universal acclaim of Le Fils or L’Enfant – tough acts to follow, both having won the Palme d’Or. Doug Cummings, whose essay “The Brothers Dardenne: Responding to the Face of the Other” is a centrepiece of the recent Faith and Spirituality in Masters of World Cinema, wonders whether that muted response might be something of a reaction against the Dardennes’ back-to-back fronds, and urges a reconsideration of Lorna’s merits. (Because Cummings deals specifically with the film’s ending, I’ll be waiting to read the whole article until I’ve had a chance to see the film myself, when Sony Classics releases the Lorna’s Silence DVD in August. But if you just can’t wait three months to read M. Cummings on les Dardennes, let me point you to his interview with the boys, or his notes on their early films (continued here), all at filmjourney.)
Lest we think it’s all one big love-fest between La Pomme Grande and Les Freres du Belgium, let me piss you off with this chunk of Richard Porton’s Cineaste interview with (then) New York film director Ramin Bahrani:
Cineaste: Endings are tricky. Even with a film like the Dardenne Brothers’ L’Enfant, the ending injects a note of phony redemption, a steal from Bresson’s Pickpocket (1959, France, Robert Bresson).
Bahrani: Yes, I agree with you. The Dardennes are great filmmakers. But the ending of L’Enfant is unacceptable. When I compare the ending of my film with the Dardennes,’ it seems to me that they’re very “moral” filmmakers while I’m not. In other words, I don’t put a knife in your stomach at the end with the heavy weight of morality. All their films seem to have this, with the possible exception of La Promesse. I love their films, and even many of the endings of films such as Rosetta and Le fils. But moral endings aren’t true to life since life has no intrinsic morality. If you look at Persian poetry, it has an acceptance of life as it is. That’s disturbing to most American viewers and you don’t find it much in American movies. I find the opposite disturbing. Some viewers found the ending of Man Push Cart (2005, USA, Ramin Bahrani) despairing. But I didn’t.
Fact is, I don’t mind being pissed off by so fine a filmmaker as Bahrani (or so fine a rag as Cineaste, for that matter). I admire Chop Shop (2007, USA, Ramin Bahrani) – for many of the reasons I appreciate the Dardennes’ films, particularly his determination neither to sentimentalize nor to preach. To my mind, there’s a significant difference between moral and moralistic, between redemption and phony redemption, and Luc and Jean-Pierre are always on the right side of that divide. I found the final scene in L’Enfant to be powerful and, yes, redemptive – but certainly not phony. I think it one of the most well-earned dawnings of conscience in cinema, earned by every gruelling frame of the extended chase sequence that precedes it. (And this from me, who hates chase sequences). Still… When one rigorous film-maker questions the rigour of another rigourous film-maker (or two) – film-makers he respects so highly, and for obvious reasons – I’m listening. The very fact that the concluding scene echoes another film so closely, and intentionally, raises the question whether the event and behaviours rise organically from the present story, or if they might be tainted – however subtly – with something not entirely organic. Which might be to say, “phony.” Pickpocket is on my summer viewing list: I think I need to follow that up by revisiting L’Enfant, to see how that ending sits now. But for now, colour me pissed off.
(Realizing he can’t leave this alone, Reed continues:) I mean, don’t you find the interviewer and his lead-off, leading question galling? Coming from Cineaste, of all places! The most moralistic of all movie mags, with its self-righteous (or should that be “righteous”?) mission to be “America’s leading Magazine on the Art and Politics of the Cinema.” If anybody cares about the ethics, conscience, dare I say the morality of film, it’s Cineaste. But I guess it has to be precisely their moralism, or else it’s moralistic? Hope Porton shows up Friday night. I bet Luc and Jean-Pierre could take him in a fight…
PS If you can’t get to NYC by Friday, or if you find the prospect of a Belgium vs Cineaste grudge match less than appealing, you can stay right there in front of your computer and take in the Dardennes’ recent directing master class at Cannes… (Thanks, Jeff.)