Sunday, February 17, 2013

La Promesse




Directed by Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne and written by the Dardenne brothers with Leon Michaux and Alphonse Badolo, La promesse (The Promise) is the story about a teenage boy who encounters tragedy as he makes a promise to take care of a man’s family while dealing with what his father really does for a living. The film is a coming-of-age story that revolves around a young boy becoming a man in the wake of his surroundings. Starring Jeremie Renier, Olivier Gourmet, Assita Ouedraogo, and Rasmane Ouedraogo. La promesse is a captivating yet harrowing film from the Dardenne brothers.

The film is the story of this teenage boy living in Antwerp, Belgium where his father has bought a building that he hopes will become their dream home. Yet, he hires illegal immigrants to work and live in the building as they pay him rent and such. When one of the workers has just brought his wife and their baby to the place, things get complicated when something happens to the man forcing the boy to make a promise to take care of his wife and child. Things get more complicated when his father decides to ship the woman and child to Germany where this young boy takes action in order to get them to safety as an act to keep his word. Yet, this boy would also face a conflict into his own as it comes to his own relationship with his father and the promise he has to make for this woman. Notably as it is a story where a boy becomes a man in the wake of what he has been through.

The film’s screenplay doesn’t have much of a plot though it does explore a lot of themes into the world of exploiting immigrants and the hardships they face in a new country. Though the character of Roger (Olivier Gourmet) isn’t a totally bad man as he’s just trying to create a better life for himself and his son Igor (Jeremie Renier). The fact he’s making money out of the labors of these immigrants he hires to fix this house and do it illegally does raise a lot of moral questions for Igor. Igor is just this teenage boy who works as a mechanic’s apprentice that wants to work on a go-kart with his friends. When he encounters this incident that would change everything around him, he finds himself making a promise to take care of this man’s wife and child. He also discovers the true nature of what his father was willing to do to this woman where he would do things that would eventually cause a rupture between himself and his father.

The direction of the Dardenne brothers is very engaging in the way they present the film in a cinema verite style that shoots everything on location and doesn’t go for any real set pieces. In going for this minimalist yet realistic approach with handheld cameras, they present things just as it is where it’s a world that is on the fringes of society and things aren’t equal. The places where the Dardenne brothers shoot at show a world that is grim where it’s filled with all sorts of people that came to this country illegally. Throughout the course of the film, there’s this weight of guilt that Igor is carrying as he wonders does he have to say something or let this woman find out. There is this dramatic suspense that does occur but it’s done in a very low-key manner where it will play to a climax. Yet, the climax that is eventually presented is more rooted in realism rather than what is expected in dramatic schematics. Overall, the Dardenne brothers create a fascinating yet gripping drama that explores a boy’s conflict over the tragedy he encounters.

Cinematographer Alain Marcoen does amazing work with the film‘s cinematography that is colorful yet realistic as it‘s not overly-lit nor goes for any kind of stylistic flairs in favor of something simple and straightforward. Editor Marie-Helene Dozo does excellent work with the editing to play out some of the dramatic suspense that occurs with rhythmic cuts as well as maintaining a leisured pace through its editing. Production designer Igor Gabriel and set decorator Francoise Joset do wonderful work with the look of the tenement building that Roger is trying to build with the immigrants to display the harshness of the world the immigrants are living in.

The wardrobe by Monic Parelle is terrific as it plays to that world of poor and working class environment these characters are in. The sound mixing of Thomas Gauder and Philippe Baudhin is superb to capture the locations these characters are living where it‘s chaotic at times but also serene. The film’s music by Jean-Marie Billy and Denis M’Punga is mostly pre-recorded music that is played in stereos such as African music that some of the characters listen to.

The film’s cast features a small but incredible ensemble that includes Frederique Bodson as Igor’s garage boss and Rasmane Ouedraogo as the man that Igor has to make a promise to. Assita Ouedaogo is wonderful as the man’s wife as she is concerned about his sudden disappearance as she is trying to find somewhere safe away from the clutches of Roger. Olivier Gourmet is brilliant as Roger as a man who is keen on wanting a better life for himself and Igor only to do things that are immoral as he is also a man who can be very cruel to his own son. Finally, there’s Jeremie Renier in a remarkable performance as Igor where he displays this very quiet sensitivity to someone who encounters tragedy while facing hard choices that puts him into conflict as it concerns his relationship with his father.

La promesse is a phenomenal film from the Dardenne brothers that features superb performances from Jeremie Renier and Olivier Gourmet. The film is definitely a grim yet exhilarating portrait of a teenage boy coming of age in a harsh world where he sees the horrors of what immigrants go through to make a living. Notably as it would be a film that would explore many themes of social hardships that the Dardenne brothers would delve into with their subsequent films. In the end, La promesse is a marvelous film from the Dardenne brothers.

Dardenne Brother Films: (Falsch) - (I Think of You) - Rosetta - Le Fils - L'Enfant - To Each His Own Cinema-Darkness - Lorna's Silence - The Kid with a Bike - (Two Days, One Night)

© thevoid99 2013

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