Social commentary in the form of intrusive realism!
Written By: Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne
Directed By: Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne
The camera of Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne floats along the edges of each and every scene. We take the place of the camera, we are on the outside, we are observing. Then the camera gets closer in a penetrating fashion. I never got the sense that the camera itself moved closer, but rather that something ethereal reached out from the camera and hurtled the viewer into scenes that they should not be privy to. Whether a happy moment, a sad realization, or a furious rebuttal I never felt comfortable with what I was watching. I never felt like I belonged in the scene, my eyes should not have seen what they did and my ears should not have been forced to hear what they did.
Yet, scene after scene took place and every time that ethereal power reached out from the camera and forced me into the lives of Bruno, Sonia, and everyone they came into contact with. I felt sorry for them, I felt pity for them, I longed to see their suffering come to an end just as much as I wished for them to stay forever in their happiest moments. Throughout all of this I knew I was intruding upon the private moments that people prefer to keep most to themselves. When Bruno goes to the abandoned storage shed it isn’t just a private moment it is the most private of moments that he hopes no one will ever know has happened. The Dardenne brothers refuse to allow this to happen by capturing Bruno’s fear, his trepidation, his immaturity and thrusting me right into the middle of his quagmire.
There’s an amazingness (yeah I went all Urban Dictionary on my peeps there) in the way the Dardenne brothers accomplish such voyeuristic realism. While the camera forces me to invade the lives of these characters I never felt the true presence of the camera if that makes any sense. Instead of me coming away from L’enfant with the impression that I had just watched a movie I came away thinking I had spent time in the lives of these characters. It’s very hard for a filmmaker to use his or her camera to bring the audience right into the middle of the characters lives. It’s even harder for a filmmaker to do that and at the same time keep such a high level of realism to the proceedings that the film feels like it is happening as opposed to being filmed.
The level of immediacy the Dardenne brothers are able to create during L’enfant is mighty impressive. Once I stepped away from the film, I was able to take stock of the greatness of what I had just watched. L’enfant is a tragic story of stupidity, love, bad decisions, yearning to feel, and most importantly life. There isn’t a moment of L’enfant that comes across as manufactured or fake and I put that down to the assured storytelling of the Dardenne brothers. Their film doesn’t preen or bay for acceptance, it just is, it happens and the audience is left no choice but to go along for the ride. There may be redemption at the end, Bruno may have finally achieved a measure of adulthood. Or Bruno may simply be pausing and taking a breath before he resumes his careless and carefree ways. The Dardenne brothers allow the film to play out so that whatever will happen in the future will happen in the future, and because life is life there was no need to manufacture an ending drawn in cement.
Jérémie Renier, as Bruno, and Déborah François, as Sonia, are the main players in L’enfant. Their performances are natural and avoid attention grabbing at every turn. They flow through their scenes, both apart and together, reacting to life around them. Bruno and Sonia are unpredictable, their reactions can not be mapped because they don’t follow any predetermined plot points. Well, okay, the movie was written so clearly they do, but the characters don’t leave the impression that they do and that speaks to the power of the duos natural acting.
L’enfant isn’t an easy watch, but life isn’t easy. The bad decisions the characters make aren’t universal, but the emotion behind their decisions and the emotions that come from their actions are universal. The camera of the Dardenne brothers is penetrating, seeking only to draw the viewer into a world of truth that they don’t want to enter. The truths, the characters, the writing, the camera, and all the rest of the elements add up to L’enfant being only one thing. L’enfant is yet another terrific movie from the Dardenne brothers, it’s painful to watch, but it’s the type of pain that is captivating to watch.