Saturday, 2 April 2011

The Son

For those waiting for my review of Incendies, your wait will continue. I had never before purchased a foreign-language DVD in Canada which did not have English subtitles, so I failed to read the fine print. While I continue to study French with the hope that one day I will be able to watch French films without subtitles, that day has not yet come. Sorry about that.

So instead we watched a 2002 Belgian film I had long wanted to see but never before found the right people with whom to watch it. I should not have waited so long.

The Son is a sublime work of art. It’s written and directed by brothers Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne and It’s not like anything I have seen before, though I was reminded of other European films and Mexican director Carlos Reygadas. To say it felt real would be a serious understatement. There is absolutely no music in the film - just the sounds of everyday life (and I mean sounds, not words). The everyday life in this case belongs to a man named Olivier (played brilliantly by Olivier Gourmet), who teaches carpentry at a vocational training centre and is a man of very few words (so there is very little dialogue to go along with the very little action). True, something extraordinary happens to Olivier when we first see him (almost the entire film is shown from a camera overlooking his shoulder) and the rest of the film is about how this extraordinary thing works itself out over the next couple of days of Olivier’s life. But much of the film is still about the routines of that life even while this extraordinary thing plays itself out. It doesn’t help that it’s a challenge to put all the pieces together with the minimal information provided and it takes a while before you even have any idea what this extraordinary thing is (other than Olivier's strange obsession with one of his students). In the meantime, you are left with various fearful guesses based on seeing too many Hollywood films. On the positive side, for me, I felt both suspense and frustration during almost every minute of The Son, desperately wanting things to happen more quickly. Those who are not driven crazy by this will be rewarded.

If this was a recent film, I would be more tempted to tell you exactly what the extraordinary thing is and to describe the wonders of how the filmmakers tell the story and lead it to its conclusion. I could then also go into some deep theological comments about the film’s ending. But this is a film that you will see very differently if you know too much, so I just can’t do it to you.

Unless the idea of spending five minutes of a film watching a man’s face while he’s driving makes you want to scream, you need to see what filmmaking as an art form is all about and rent a copy of The Son. **** My mug is up and full of aromatic yet simple flavours.

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