December 23, 2006 -- A spare, unflinching portrait of a young couple at the bottom of society. Bruno (Jérémie Renier of “Brotherhood of the Wolf”) is a thief and his girlfriend, Sonia (Déborah François) lives on the dole. When Sonia gives birth to the couple's child, Bruno sees the child as a new source of income. He decides to sell the child to someone dealing in black market adoptions without consulting Sonia. He makes a lot of money on the sale and thinks that Sonia will be pleased. She is not.
This act starts Bruno on a long, painful journey, during which his whole life is transformed. He discovers that his love for Sonia is so strong that he is willing to change his whole life to get her back. He tries to go back to a life of crime, but finds he cannot go back to the way he was. His whole world is falling apart, but the audience sees this long before Bruno realizes what is happening.
The child, and Sonia, force Bruno to reluctantly head in a new direction. Despite the awful situation that Sonia and Bruno find themselves in, there is a core of decency in Bruno which is uncovered. This gives this otherwise bleak story a tinge of hope. The way that his decency is uncovered and the way his feelings for Sonia are revealed provide a couple of the film's most surprising moments.
Directed by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne (“The Son”). The movie is filled with action, it even has a car chase, or rather a car-scooter chase, but very little dialogue. It turns out that it doesn't need a lot of dialogue. It is able to deliver its message in almost purely cinematic terms. The Dardennes could teach a lot of Hollywood directors something about how to tell a story without off-screen narration and without a lot of expository dialogue. The characters in this film are shown in a kind of neutral, objective way, almost like a dispassionate documentary. I usually don't care for this kind of treatment, but it sure works here. It takes really masterful direction to make this kind of treatment work on an emotional level. It is clear the Dardennes have what it takes in this regard.
This is a very moving film, a powerful drama. The two stars, Jérémie Renier and Déborah François are very effective. Their performances are understated for most of the film, with occasional eruptions of emotion made all the more effective by this tactic. The story (written by the Dardenne brothers) is also ingenious. It unfolds very naturally. It is very believable, and it is not predictable at all. Nothing in this film seems forced at all. The story seems to unveil itself as if it were a real time documentary. This film rates a B+.
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