The Son

The third feature written, produced and directed by Belgian brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne — whose distinctive, neo-realist style is rooted in their past documentary work — is their strongest and most emotionally intense film to date. His life undone by terrible tragedy, middle-aged divorcee Olivier (Olivier Gourmet) has given up working...read more

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Reviewed by Ken Fox
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The third feature written, produced and directed by Belgian brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne — whose distinctive, neo-realist style is rooted in their past documentary work — is their strongest and most emotionally intense film to date. His life undone by terrible tragedy, middle-aged divorcee Olivier (Olivier Gourmet) has given up working at his brother's lumberyard to teach carpentry to troubled teenage boys at a local vocational training center. His pregnant ex-wife, Magali (Isabella Soupart), is about to remarry, and Olivier has achieved a sort of lonely stability when he's blindsided by a terrible coincidence. One afternoon, the training center director (Annette Closset) hands him an application for a new apprentice, and Olivier is stunned by the applicant's name: Francis Thirton is the boy who, five years earlier, was convicted of killing Olivier's young son. Fresh out of Fraipont Reformatory, Francis (Morgan Marinne), now 16, wants to become a carpenter, and has unwittingly asked his victim's father to teach him his trade. Olivier's immediate reaction is to refuse to take the boy on, but, after following Francis home and later breaking into his tiny apartment, he changes his mind, much to Magali's horror. Olivier casually questions Francis, and learns that he's been virtually abandoned by his mother and has no idea where his father is; he also learns that Francis is on medication. Olivier's feelings toward Francis, however, remain highly ambivalent — he seems to sympathize with this lost boy, but then takes the opportunity to hurt him when he falls asleep in the front seat of his car. And Olivier's motives are troubling and unclear, particularly when he lures Francis out to his brother's empty lumberyard one cold Saturday afternoon. Without the benefit of a score or much dialogue, the Dardennes manage to communicate an enormous amount of character through simple, meaningful action, and Gourmet is a masterful actor whose chilling, poker-faced performance creates a level of suspense that leaves you hanging until the film's final, wrenching moments. But the real star of the film is the extraordinary, hand-held camerawork of cinematographer Alain Marcoen and camera operator Benoit Dervaux, who also shot the Dardennes's previous features, LA PROMESSE (1996) and ROSETTA (1999). Marcoen and Dervaux once again hang on the shoulder of their subject, rarely using anything wider than a close-up and restlessly panning to take in whatever the agitated Olivier sees. The results are a harrowingly intimate connection with a torn, tormented father, and an uncommonly powerful film.

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  • Released: 2002
  • Rating: NR
  • Review: The third feature written, produced and directed by Belgian brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne — whose distinctive, neo-realist style is rooted in their past documentary work — is their strongest and most emotionally intense film to date. His… (more)

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