Magazine article Variety

Nothing but the Truth

Magazine article Variety

Nothing but the Truth

Article excerpt

Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne are effusive talkers on any number of subjects, but good luck getting them to shut up about the best movie they've seen recently - a marvel of beautifully observed realism, carefully grounded in the quotidian details of working-class life, and featuring an outstanding bigscreen debut by a young actor with no formal training.

The picture that has the Belgian brothers so enraptured is "Boyhood," Richard Linklater's much-acclaimed, 12-years-inthe-making coming-of-age epic.

"It's the first film I've seen in a very, very long time where the characters are human beings, and they disappear into the fabric of the film. They're just people," says Jean-Pierre, 63.

"It's about ordinary existence, ordinary life," continues Luc, 60, generally the more loquacious of the two. "(The filmmaker) trusts mundane existence and allows it to exist."

If the Dardennes were less inclined toward modesty, they might just as well be describing one of their own movies, in which the raw materials of everyday reality regularly become the stuff of morally wrenching, fiercely unsentimental drama.

At this point in their nearly 40-year career, during which they have twice won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival (for 1999's "Rosetta" and 2005's "L'enfant"), the Dardennes have long cemented their standing among the most revered and influential figures in world cinema. Their filmmaking signature - an unstinting realism signified by a handheld camera and a fascination with hard-scrabble lives - can be seen in the grotty new strain of British kitchen-sink melodrama practiced by the likes of Andrea Arnold and Shane Meadows, and also in the socially conscious suspense thrillers of China's Li Yang. Remarkably, their influence has been most pronounced in a recent wave of American indies as different as Darren Aronofsky's "The Wrestler" and "Black Swan," Lance Hammer's "Ballast," Ryan Fleck's "Half Nelson," and Ramin Bahrani's "Chop Shop."

Yet while many have appropriated the Dardennes' formal devices, few have approached their daunting consistency. Starting with 1996 breakthrough feature "La Promesse," and continuing with this year's "Two Days, One Night" (which begins an awards-qualitying U.S. run Dec. 24 through IFC's Sundance Selects), they have made seven tense, engrossing character studies that also function as thrillers of conscience. Formally spare and informed by their nearly 20 years of documentary filmmaking experience, these narratives are steeped in the often-cruel deprivations of the material world, yet also touched by flickers of grace and redemption that hover somewhere between the secular and the divine.

In that respect, the Dardennes have become standard-bearers for a sort of emotional and aesthetic purity that harks back to the masterworks of Robert Bresson, a fellow patron saint of European cinema to whom they are often likened. Yet such lofty comparisons can obscure the fact that they are shrewd, even calculating dramatists at heart: Purged of artfilm longueurs, their life-or-death narratives unfold in a swift, restless present tense, spurred along by hairpin twists and startling reversals of character.

Neorealist titans though they may be, the Dardennes are also unabashed entertainers - a fact that has perhaps never been clearer than in their latest feature, which reaffirms their humanist bent even as it quietly dismantles some of the rules that have governed their work. Known for discovering such talented newcomers as Emilie Dequenne, Jeremie Renier and Arta Dobroshi, the brothers broke with tradition in 2011 by casting wellknown Gallic actress Cecile de France in "The Kid With a Bike." They've taken an even bigger artistic risk in tapping Marion Cotillard to play a working-class wife and mother on the brink of losing her job in "Two Days, One Night."

Sitting down with Variety at the Sunset Towers Hotel in West Hollywood, following the film's AFI Fest premiere, the Dardennes concede that they were curious to see how well an Oscar-winning glamour icon could melt into the backdrop of Seraing, the industrial port town where nearly all their films are set. …

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