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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

All my aimless thoughts, ideas, and ramblings, all packed into one site!

Tag Archives: The Dardenne Brothers

The Unknown Girl (2017)

Not your problem, don’t solve it.

Jenny (Adele Haenel) is a young doctor who has a pretty bright career ahead of her and is using her knowledge to help out those looking up to her. But late one night, after a very long day of working with all sorts of people, she’s just so pooped and can’t be bothered with someone who rings her buzzer late after work hours. While she normally would have any other day, on this particular day, she doesn’t, and ultimately, it ends up biting her in the rump for the days to come. As it turns out, the person ringing the buzzer was a young African woman who was found dead not long after ringing away. How? Or why? Or better yet, who exactly was this woman? It constantly aches and chews away at Jenny and for the next few days, she spends, when she’s not looking over patients, finding out more about this woman and the life she led. Is it to make up for the guilt she feels? Or is it just because she herself needs a little bit of inspiration in her own stale-mate life?

“Cheers! Or at least try to! We’re in a Dardenne movie.”

It should be said that a Dardenne movie is a lot better than most of what is out there, regardless of how good the actual Dardenne movie is. And in the case of the Unknown Girl, this is especially true. It’s not that it’s neither bad, nor good – it’s just that it’s very mediocre and awfully generic, especially given the standards that the Dardenne’s have come to be known for in the past two decades they’ve been around.

And it’s odd, too, because the Unknown Girl has everything one could want from a Dardenne movie. It’s bleak, a little sad, super-serious, well-acted, and filmed in such a naturalistic, realistic way that it almost seems like a documentary than anything else. In that sense, it’s very French and wears a lot of the Dardenne’s movies on its sleeves, but for some reason, the story just isn’t here.

And that ultimately proves to be its main and only issue.

“Hello? Yeah, I’m pretty depressed.”

The fact that the story in and of itself is a Macguffin, sort of doesn’t matter; it’s fine that we sort of spend our time, waiting and watching as Jenny finds out more about this mysterious woman’s life. In a way, there’s plenty of secrets to be had and it makes you think of just where it’s going to go, especially since the Dardenne’s movies aren’t always the most predictable bunch.

But then, it gets going and it turns out, oh wait, there’s not much to it. We begin to find out more about the life this woman lived, why she was ringing the buzzer that night, the guilt, the sadness, and the tragedy of her life left behind, and that’s about it. We don’t really learn much about anyone in the meantime, nor does it ever feel like much of anything was accomplished – it’s just a story, being told in the most generic-way imaginable. Which isn’t to say that it makes the Unknown Girl a bad movie, but considering that we’re talking about the Dardenne’s here, it can’t help but feel like a disappointment. This is usually their bread and butter, and while there are bits and pieces and splashes of interesting ideas, they feel in-service of a story that’s not quite where it wants to go, or what it wants to do.

It just meanders long and long enough until we’re at the end and left wondering, “Well, that’s it? Really? Anything else?”

But nope. There isn’t. Oh well.

Consensus: Despite there being flashes of the usual solid work done by the Dardenne’s, the Unknown Girl still feels like a bit of a disappointment, with a slow-pace, generic story, and awfully simple outcome.

5 / 10

Great door-to-door service medical-care. Why don’t we have this in the States?

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

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The Kid with a Bike (2011)

Every kid needs a bike to get by in life.

Abandoned by his father and practically everyone else around him, young Cyril (Thomas Doret) begins to act out in anger, causing all sorts of havoc and constantly finding himself in trouble. In a way, it almost seems like it follows him everywhere he goes and it’s as if Cyril will never be able to escape the darkness that swallows up his whole life. However, there is one light to be found in Cyril’s relatively bad life: His caretaker Samantha (Cécile de France), who took the opportunity to watch over him on something of a whim and is finding a lot more than she can chew. But seeing as how Cyril’s got nowhere else to go, but an orphanage, or even worse, a juvenile delinquent center and becoming another little boy involved with the system, she decides to stick with it and realizes that it may be worth it. And after much time together, yeah, Cyril gets used to Samantha, her rules, and the way she lives her life, which is relatively peaceful and nice, by his standards. But as per usual, Cyril’s past always comes back to bite him in the rear-end when constant attempts to connect with his dad seem to turn sour and piss Cyril off even more.

Good luck watching over that kid.

The Kid with the Bike is one of the Dardenne’s more interesting flicks, because it not only seems to have something resembling an actual plot, but seems to be a lot sweeter and more optimistic than their other flicks. Sure, it’s about a young whippersnapper who causes all sorts of problems, gets into trouble, and doesn’t have the best life imaginable, but it also has some solid glimmers of hope, too. In fact, a good portion of the movie is dedicated to Cyril getting better at life, at family, at love, and at realizing that there’s more to everything than just sitting around all day and being mad at the world around him.

Sometimes, it’s best to just smile and be grateful, as easy as that may be to say.

And yes, as usual, the Dardenne’s keep up with their naturalistic approach, where it seems like the movie’s a documentary, and yes, it works. But what really keeps the Kid with the Bike compelling is Thomas Doret in the lead role of Cyril, who proves to be a smart kid, despite also being chock-full of angst. The Dardenne’s have a knack for casting talented young actors in their somewhat difficult roles, because half of what they’re doing is just showing, rather than just saying; you can say that’s all of acting, but when you’re a kid, and half of what you’re being told to do is simply just standing there and reacting, it’s a pretty hard feat to pull off. But Doret does just that, showing that there are true, honest, and relatively sad layers beneath Cyril’s sometimes infuriating actions.

Brat.

As is usually the case with Dardenne protagonists, Cyril doesn’t make the best decisions, but because he’s a kid and is so hot-headed, it sort of works and makes sense. And considering she could have easily turned into a silly, sappy type that these types of stories love to have, Cécile de France feels real and honest as Samantha, a gal who doesn’t know what she’s gotten herself into, but knows the end results of what happens if she walks away, so she sticks it out, the best that she can. The two have a lovely little bit of chemistry, seeming as if they’re getting to know, as well as love one another, gradually over time, with the usual hurdles having to be climbed over.

But hey, that’s how family.

But the reason why the Kid with the Bike isn’t, in my book, considered one of the Dardenne’s best, even though it can come very, very close, is its cop-out of an ending.

And that’s all I’ll say about that. Just see it and you’ll know what I’m saying. Hopefully.

Consensus: Despite a folly ending, the Kid with the Bike is typical of the Dardenne’s, in that it’s sad, honest, heartfelt, and surprisingly warm, given the underlining of darkness always there to be found.

8 / 10

Well, maybe he’s got some charm.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

L’enfant (2005)

Some people just shouldn’t have children. Especially idiotic children.

After giving birth, teenage Sonia (Déborah François) returns home to find that her boyfriend, a petty criminal named Bruno (Jérémie Renier), has sublet their apartment. Sonia tracks Bruno down on the street, and after the couple spends the night together, they decide to start a new life with the baby and forget about any of their past trouble and woes. But the next morning, Bruno sells their child for cash, sending Sonia into an absolute state of shock and awe. How could he do this? Was it for love? Money? Or did he just not want to responsibility any longer of taking care of something that is, you know, his? Regardless, she decides that it’s best to press charges against him for taking what was rightfully hers. Bruno is shocked by her decision, too, so he vows to find the baby and bring it back to her, by any means necessary. And being that he’s already in the criminal-game, Bruno’s got some ideas and tricks up his sleeve.

“Looks like money to me.”

As usual with the writing/directing team of Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne, L’enfant is no easy ride. In fact, it’s one of their more disturbing, hard-to-watch movies ever made as we literally never grow to like any of these characters. Sure, you could say that about the rest of their films, in which we never really judge the characters, as much as we just sit and watch them, but here, it feels like they’re so despicable, that spending any time with them whatsoever, let alone two hours, would just be way, way too much. Add-on the fact that the Dardenne’s love themselves some hand-held close-ups and yeah, you’ve got a pretty miserable experience.

And yes, that’s exactly the point.

See, L’enfant is a hard movie to watch because, like most of the Dardenne’s other movies, it asks us the simple question of whether or not we can accept these idiotic, downright juvenile human beings as just that, human beings? They’re stupid and they make absolutely dumb decisions, but does that make them any less human than you or I? The Dardenne’s have always examined this in their movies, but it feels more raw and relevant here because, at the center of it all, is something resembling a love story, that eventually, as expected, turns sour.

But then it becomes a sort of redemption-story of one Bruno, who goes from being the most unlikable, despicable human being on the face of the planet, to actually a pretty determined guy, when he wants to be. See though, that’s the thing about Bruno and the movie – we never fully see it all in just one light. Bruno can be seen as another dumb young adult who doesn’t really know what to do, unless he’s committing some act of vandalism or crime, but when faced with responsibility, can act his age and actually make something of his relatively pathetic life.

Seriously. Michael Bay, take notes.

And it deserves stating that Jérémie Renier, a Dardenne regular since he was literally 14, does one of his best jobs here. Of course, it helps that he’s got a lot to work with; Bruno grows throughout the whole course of the movie and we see different shades of him. We may not always like, or respect the shades, but they are still shades nonetheless, and Renier remains always compelling. We never know what his next action will be, or for what reasons, and because of that, he’s incredibly watchable and perfect for this kind of role, in this kind of movie.

The kind of raw, gritty, and in-your-face movie that needs raw, gritty, in-your-face performance to match it.

But honestly, it’s the Dardenne’s who deserve a lot of praise for, once again, proving that the best way to tell stories such as these, is to just sit back and let the acting/writing do the talking itself. Which is surprising because a solid portion of the movie is actually quite as thrilling; a car-chase that happens about halfway through and seems to go on forever, is way more exciting than most that I see in your typical, summer blockbuster fare. But it doesn’t always resort to action to really keep itself compelling – all it needs is a little emotion and heartbreak to drive everything along.

Sort of like life itself.

Consensus: As sad as it is, L’enfant is still another masterclass in raw, gritty naturalism that the Dardenne’s have practically perfected, with a great lead performance from Renier.

8.5 / 10

Thanks, Bruno. Always making the men look good in this kind of situation.

Photos Courtesy of: Sony Classics

Two Days, One Night (2014)

TwoDaysposterTypical office drama.

Early one Friday morning, while lying motionless in her bed and not wanting to pick up the phone, Sandra (Marion Cotillard) gets word from her husband (Fabrizio Rongione) that her job may be possibly on the line. According to her most trusted co-worker, a total of sixteen had apparently all taken a vote to receive a pay-grade, so long so as they got rid of Sandra to begin with. Whatever the reasons behind Sandra’s firing may have been, is totally unknown, but all Sandra knows now is that she has to go to each and everyone of these co-worker’s and see if she can get them to change their mind about their initial decision. Or, if anything, at least see the situation from her point-of-view. However, mostly due to the fact that Sandra may already be battling some sort of problem with depression, the weekend turns into a small adventure of sorts, where she talks to people she may not have talked to before and, for better and for worse, gets a chance to see what it is that they have to say about her, her work-performance, or why exactly it is that they want this pay-increase to begin with.

Wait till she bitch-slaps them all, Three Stooges-style.

Wait till she bitch-slaps them all, Three Stooges-style.

On the surface, Two Days, One Night seems so incredibly simple that you could practically write a short story about it. However, the way in which co-writers/directors Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne allow for this story to play-out, it’s anything but. Meaning that while we do get a relatively straight-forward glimpse into the life of one woman’s struggle to keep her job, as well as her sanity, there are certain under-lining themes and ideas that make this story than just what’s presented to us as is. What one person may see as a clear statement on the cut-throat business-world that’s been created for our society and those who decide to get involved with it, no matter what social-class they’re apart of – another may see as a story about a woman just trying to keep her job.

I guess, what it all really comes down to is whether you’re the viewer who likes to think long and hard about what you’re watching? Or, whether you’re the viewer who likes to sit down, watch what’s in front of you, enjoy it for all that it’s worth, have it end, and simply go on with your day, as if nothing had been seen or digested in the brain? I’m not saying one viewer is better than the other, but it’s just the certain idea that went through my head while watching this.

Because, yes, while I’d like to assume I am the kind of viewer in the formerly-mentioned party, a part of me was thinking that there’s a certain bit of this movie that is all too simple to really be about anything else except just what’s presented to me. Sure, the idea that this one woman could lose her job, because of excessive greed and possible manipulation from the higher-ups is brought to the table and, in some instances, even confronted as evil, but reasonable. These are short, slight moments that made me feel as if I was watching something made for my thinking, living-self.

Then, there were a few instances in which I felt like this movie was just taking a simple premise, and keeping it as that. Normally, I don’t have a problem when a film maker settles on the option of making their own movie a piece of free-thinking, non-heavy entertainment, but in this case, I didn’t want that. I wanted more meat, skin and bones to my story, rather than just this French gal walking around town, going door-to-door and seemingly having the same conversation with people she kinda/sorta/maybe knows. You could make the argument that each and everyone of those conversations that the French gal has at least brings out something new/interesting to these supporting characters and put the final decision into a wider-perspective, but at the end of the day, that’s all it feels like.

Once again, that’s not a slight against the Dardenne Brothers for giving me something simple and at least sticking with that, because, for the most part, it’s good what they already have to be shown. The narrative is strong enough to make this woman’s interactions very compelling, and heck, even she’s a very solid character. Although, yes, it’s very hard to pin-point what it is exactly that’s going on so wrong in the head of her, there’s an idea that while Sandra may be a bit of a basket case, she is still, like you or I, a human being who is deserving of a job, and all of the perks that come along with it. Because we’re able to identify with Sandra, her interactions with those around her make a lot more sense when put into perspective as to why the hell she’s fighting for her job in the first place, and why it may matter more to those around her who love and depend on her the most.

All he wants is for his wife to keep her job, so that they can maintain their families health and stability. What a pest!

All he wants is for his wife to keep her job, so that they can maintain their families’ health and stability. What a pest!

It also helps, too, that Sandra is played quite well and effectively by Marion Cotillard, an actress who, I feel, is incapable of giving a poor performance in anything she shows her wonderfully exotic face in.

Here as Sandra, Cotillard digs deep into what may have made this woman tick so frequently and dangerously to begin with, but she also digs deep enough that we get an idea of what makes her worth rooting for, even when it seems like the ball is nowhere near her home-field. While it seems all too obvious that she may lose this opportunity to keep her job, there’s a small feeling of optimism constantly flowing throughout that makes it seem like, hell, she could pull this off by just simply having others feel sorry for her and, as a result, pity her. With those expressive eyes of Cotillard’s, there’s always the idea that whatever Sandra is going to do next, to whom, and why, it’s never calculated and never fully predictable. One second, she could be as quiet and as lovely as a bee buzzing on a hot summer day; another, she could be ready to crack her own head open for everybody to view the torment, agony and pain she seems to be going through on a regular basis.

Through it all though, Cotillard is constantly engaging and makes you feel that maybe while this woman probably wasn’t the best worker, she still doesn’t deserve to get stiffed from her job. At least not like this, that is. Then again, nobody deserves to be fired from their job without their full well-knowing, or better yet, their presence being dully noted. Maybe that’s the way our economy has turned – it’s making those who lose their jobs, lonely, sad and depressing individuals that probably had it coming to them, even if that’s not true to begin with. But, most importantly, it’s making those who keep their jobs, or at least, those who intend on keeping their jobs, to become selfish, mean, nasty, money-grubbing son-of-a-bitches that may have a moral code they want to stick with, but when it comes to sustaining the health and wealth of those that they love, they lose a bit of what makes them so human to begin with.

That’s just the world we live in, everybody. So try to make as much money as you can. Just do make sure that it is in a legal manner.

Please.

Consensus: Sometimes too simple for its own good, Two Days, One Night still compels by giving an all-too-realistic view into the life of a person who could be you or I, except she looks, acts, and is beautifully well-done by Marion Cotillard.

8 / 10 = Matinee!!

Sometimes, all you need is a hug. Or a minimum-wage job to keep a roof over your head, but hey, it's a work-in-progress here, people.

Sometimes, all you need is a hug. Or a minimum-wage job to keep a roof over your head, but hey, it’s a work-in-progress here, people.