My third and final entry in the Cannes section of the Movie Dictator Club for the month of May, 2009!
Written By: Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne
Directed By: Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne
I find myself stumped as to what to write about Le Fils. Easily one of the simplest movies I have ever seen, it’s clarity of presentation and meaning requires the same in response. I don’t fall into that category of reviewer, I am long winded, often tangential, and prone to waxing poetic at every turn. To say that Le Fils is the opposite is an understatement, it is concise, and to the point. Le Fils is an economy of motion, every movement of every character serves the great meaning of the film, every moment drives towards the ending. In a world of bloated films that last too long or lose themselves while trying for depth, Le Fils is a testimony to the power of simplicity and how taking the simplest approach can breed more depth than the complex approach.
I was reminded of two movies while watching Le Fils, Road To Perdition and In The Bedroom. Both are films that I happen to love and view as master works, and Le Fils shares some similarities to those two films, simplistic approach, dynamic acting, and the idea of dealing with a great loss within a family. However, Le Fils differs greatly in its resolution, one that the modern movie goer should be shocked by. That’s not to say that Le Fils resolution is better than the ones found in Road To Perdition or In The Bedroom, but it is remarkably different and nowhere near what movies have taught us should happen at the end of such a yarn.
At this point anyone who has not yet seen Le Fils should stop reading, because I will spoil the heck out of it, I don’t think there’s any way around that.
The ending of Le Fils wouldn’t work without a set-up, and the set-up is chilling. I spent the first thirty minutes of Le Fils questioning Olivier, wondering what his deal was and trying to figure out what the intentions were behind his creepy and mysterious actions. Then my expectations were subverted with the revelation that Francis isn’t being leered at for the obvious reasons, but rather because he killed Olivier’s son. At this point it would have been easy for the Dardenne’s to switch things up, to dramatically change the mood and tone of the film. Instead they simply changed the focus, what had once made Olivier seem creepy in a sexual way now made him dangerous in a rapturous way. We may not know what Olivier is feeling, but we do know that so many things are flying through his head and his actions make it hard to figure out where the movie is headed and what Olivier will do.
This goes back to the idea of subversion within the film, and the ending is one giant subversion piece. Years upon years of worldwide film watching have told us how this movie must end. Le Fils can only end with the death of Francis at the hands of Olivier, and it would be completely justified. Yet, the Dardennes continue to subvert our expectations and go a different route, showing another side of humanity, one that is rarely seen in film. That of forgiveness, redemption and the ability to take in someone who has utterly damaged you.
Before I went into unveiling spoilers I talked about the differences between Road To Perdition, In The Bedroom and Le Fils. One major difference I didn’t feel like disclosing till after I had reached spoiler territory was that of Francis. He is a killer, but what makes him different is an obvious level of remorse in his actions as well as a decided lack of conviction in the actions that led to the death. This may seem like a small thing, but it is a major thing when it comes to the idea of Francis’ redemption and by proxy the redemption of Olivier as well.
I said earlier that I was stumped as to what to write about Le Fils. As the above should attest, that wasn’t entirely true, but I do fear that I have prattled on far too much about a film that wants the reaction of the audience to stay at the same simple level as its storytelling. There is depth in the presentation, in the allegory of Olivier as Jesus’ father John, in the smothering nature of the tone, the way that it feels like every scene is an invasion of something private, and so on, and so on. But, Le Fils is above all else a simple movie that allows for its power to come from the simplicity of its presentation and the simple, yet realistic work of its actors. I’d like to thank Worm@Work for the last of my three dictations for the month of May, it was a wonderful movie to watch and I am more than happy for being spurred to see a movie I might never have gotten around to otherwise.