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aka - Promesse, La
Belgium 1996
Directed by
Jean Pierre Dardenne / Luc Dardenne
90 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4 stars

Promise, The (1996)

La Promesse was the international breakthrough film for Belgian brothers Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne. With a background in leftist documentaries they shifted gear to embodying their political and social concerns in dramatic form, here the traffic in illegal immigrants told through the story of Igor (Jérémie Renier) the 15 year old son of a slum landlord (Olivier Gourmet). His father rents the illegals crummy rooms and employs them as labourers to fix his own property next door. When the husband of a woman (Assita Ouedraogo) from Burkina Faso dies as a result of an accident and the father attempts to cover it up, Igor's conscience is awakened.

Very much in the social realist tradition and particularly for an English-speaking audience, recalling the films of Ken Loach, the Dardennes realize a compassionate and dramatically moving narrative with the techniques of realist cinema - hand-held cameras, location shooting, non-professional actors and so on - in a way that is never didactic but strongly focussed on the characters. Here the father and son combination is marvellous. Gourmet is perfect as the slovenly and callously underhand father, whilst Renier as his Oliver-esque son, tutored in the ways of petty crime but still with the innocence of childhood, brings the film an unsentimental charm that will win over those who might otherwise be resistant to the film's committed message.

FYI: Renier would go on to star in the Dardennes 2005 film, The Child.

DVD Extras: Commentary by Melbourne film academic Adrian Martin and original theatrical trailer

Available from: Madman




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