Tuesday, April 27, 2010

2006: L'enfant (Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne)

2006: L'enfant (Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne) 
I saw La promesse and Rosetta in theaters when they first came out.  I was lukewarm on both and then ignored the next ten years worth of Dardenne releases.  But finally after some prodding and encouragement from friends, I caught up with L'enfant, The Son, and Lorna's Silence. I tell you all this to explain that I've done a complete about-face on these directors and now consider their work one of the most interesting things going right now.  I haven't gone back and revisited their earlier work yet, but I would assume I would have a much more favorable reaction to it now, too.  

More than anything, I respect that the Dardennes, like Kiarostami and Hou Hsiao-hsien, have a real formal system guiding their work.  It's conceived with great thought and then executed with laser precision. The three later films I mention above all feel very Bressonian to me, though I can't concede quite yet that the Dardennes' heights of transcendence are on the same level as the great French director. 

But I greatly admire the level of restraint they exhibit throughout their work.  I also respect the lively, real performances the Dardennes are able to elicit.  They came up making documentaries, and their ability to create a "real", fictional world is far superior to most.  

For the moment, the brothers might be just a notch below Bresson, but the chase sequence in this one rivals, and maybe even surpasses, the great heist scene on the train in Pickpocket.  I'm excited to see whatever they do from here.  I truly think they're among today's masters.    

Other contenders for 2006: From this year, I still have some things to see.  These include: Jafar Panahi's Offside, Hou Hsiao-hsien's Cafe Lumiere, Darren Aronofsky's The Fountain, Spike Lee's Inside Man, Pedro Almodovar's Volver, Clint Eastwood's Flags of Our Fathers, Abbas Kiarostami's Roads of Kiarostami, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck's The Lives of Others, and Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth.  I really like Stephen Frears' The Queen.  And my closest runner-up is Hou Hsiao-hsien's Three Times.  

11/23/10 I watched Shane Meadows' This Is England.  Meadows has energy, verve, and a very good way with his actors.  Stephen Graham, in particular, is spot-on and incredibly dangerous every moment he's on screen.  Meadows can be a little overwrought at times for my taste.  And I'd prefer a little more shape to his storytelling.  But all in all, a pretty enjoyable flick.  

11/26/10 I watched Emanuele Crialese's Golden Door.  Gainsbourg is incredibly compelling, and it's a nice tale about a part of Ellis Island entry that I've never heard.  Moving, at times, though the the flights of fancy didn't always completely jell for me.  

12/17/10 I watched Pedro Almodovar's Volver.  It's a complex tale about regret, artfully delivered by Almodovar.  Some of it might be a little messy and slack, but Cruz delivers a weighty performance that makes it all pretty worthwhile.

12/31/10 I watched Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck's The Lives of Others.  The director does a very fine job of going into expected places, and coming out of them with unexpected solutions.  He's at his very most successful in the film's final moment.  This idea of doing things for others, selfless, without expecting acclaim or recognition and no matter the consequences, affected me pretty deeply.  A bit too clean, and Hollywood neat at times in its formal approach.  But definitely a story patiently, and very intelligently told.  

1/25/11 I watched Darren Aronofsky's The Fountain.  It's a bit too elusive for my taste, and Weisz didn't completely captivate me as I would need to be from her role.  But Mansell proves once again that he's among the most talented composers in the world, and Jackman actually impressed me more than ever.  

11/26/11 I watched Tsai Ming-liang's I Don't Want to Sleep Alone. Tsai's cinema is remarkably consistent from film to film, thematically, rhythmically, and formally.  No one does loneliness and modern alienation, post-Antonioni, as well as Tsai.  And there's a repressed sexuality about his work that's as strong in its charge as Lynch, Cronenberg, or anyone else.

7/28/12 I watched Steven Cantor and Matthew Galkin's loudQUIETloud: A Film About the Pixies.  Borderline boring doc about an extremely interesting group.  Never goes into what made these guys who they were, and after awhile the surface approach becomes frustrating.  

8/9/12 I watched Stephen Kijak's Scott Walker: 30 Century Man.  What I liked most is the fact that the filmmakers don't shy away from Walker's darkness.  The film is granted nice access to Walker, and I certainly left with somewhat of a better understanding.  Could have gone deeper and could have explored Walker's quip about "imbibing".  But all in all a worthy doc if you're interested in learning a little more about Scott Walker.  

11/23/12 I watched Ha Yoo's A Dirty Carnival.  There's a visceral energy and an angle of originality that make this gangster epic of immediate interest.  The lead character sucks you in and this world of violence without guns at first feels all the more disturbing.  But a little too much of everything by the end had me more worn down than inspired.  

6/9/13 I watched Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette.  Up to now, I have been skeptical of Coppola's approach - wall-to-wall hipness masking a questionable amount of depth.  And the same issues could certianly be raised here.  Yet I found her style fitting this time around, allowing us to feel Marie's listlessness and difficulties in an effective way that a more traditional, period piece may not have given us.

11/26/15 I watched Martin Campbell's Casino Royale.  It is the first time I have seen a Craig-starring Bond film and he is quite good.  First of all he might be the strongest actor of all of the Bonds and he just exudes the unusual mix of charm and guile I have come to think of with Bond.  The big difference is his Bond is a little more violent, a little more hands-on, more often full of visible scratches and bruises than boyish and dapper.  This Bond is a bit at the end of his line and Campbell/Craig seem to have a good thing going on.  The movie is non-stop action and although not always artful it is very good entertainment.  

11/14/16 I watched Bong Joon-ho's The Host.  It is an impressively large-scaled South Korean production that Les Inrockuptibles consider very highly.  It might have a lot to say about government, media, and the frenzies created around potential threats and viruses.  Unfortunately it is tough for me to take seriously, beyond its slick spectacle, as well done as it may be.  

6/20/17 I watched Andy Fickman's She's the Man.  Not the type of movie I normally watch but cute for what it was and Bynes has tons of charm to spare.

10/23/17 I watched Werner Herzog's Rescue Dawn.  Herzog is in the Hollywood system as much as I have ever seen but comes through, for the most part, true to form.  Herzog finds in Bale another perfect embodiment for his distorted heroism and proves once again that he can bring out the jungle of the jungle better than anyone who has ever worked in the medium.  The movie falters towards the end when it seems Herzog is trying to grasp at more Hollywood convention but otherwise it finds a unique, compelling voice within a well-worn genre.

6/13/20 I watched Jafar Panahi's Offside.  An interesting metaphor and concept that provide for a memorable commentary on Iranian culture.  But overall I found it claustrophobic and a bit monotonous after a while.

7/5/20 I watched Hong Sang-soo's Woman on the Beach.  Definitely a Hong film and very admirable for its simplicity and sense of harmony.  I did not love it quite as much as my favorite films from the South Korean director but an enjoyable film for any Hong fan.

12/15/21 I watched Spike Lee's When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts.  One of the strongest qualities of Lee's work is the way he repeatedly uses the medium to talk about his anger with the treatment of African-American people in this country.  He sometimes finds dramatic ways to do it and he also often does it by having a strong comedic voice.  And regardless of the type of story Lee is telling, he gives it a flashy cinematic style that makes it all go down a little more easily.  

They say the flip side of anger is sadness.  This doc made for HBO might be the first Lee film I have seen (there are many and I can't claim to have seem them all) that embraces the sadness rather than the anger.  It is also the first Lee film that seems to background style and let the people and events stand for themselves.  As a result, it packs a weighty punch and stands up there with the greatest achievements of his career so far.    

3/31/22 I watched John Scheinfeld's Who Is Harry Nilsson (And Why Is Everybody Talkin' About Him)?  I always loved Nilsson's song in Midnight Cowboy but I had never delved into the rest of his work which I can now begin to tell you is surprisingly rich and rewarding.  A fascinating portrait for anyone like me that loves Dylan, Scott Walker, Rufus Wainwright and countless other singer-songwriters.

6/11/22 I watched Sarah Polley's Away from Her.  The acting is tremendous and I commend Polley for working with material that feels original and true to life.  It's the style of the film that impressed me less.  I found it difficult to see any logical organization or meaningful structure to how the story was told.

8/7/22 I watched Karen Moncrieff's The Dead Girl.  Most interesting is the way the screenplay is put together, puzzle-like and episodic, where you are never quite in sync with it until the very last few seconds.  

11/13/22 I watched Jia Zhangke’s Still Life.  I am aware that Zhangke is highly revered in circles I admire but this is probably the first film of his I’ve seen in its entirety.  In its rigor - long takes and prominent film sound - it reminded me of 80s and 90s Hou Hsiao-hsien.  Its painterly lighting and framing of the highest order also recall the mastery of Hou.  Slow, thoughtful and with a touch of fantasy that yearns for something other than the every day grind of 21st century China, a great example of a great 21st century art film.


  1. In my original countdown, I went with THE LIVES OF OTHERS and still think that movie is incredible. I also rank UNITED 93 just as highly and am amazed at how well Greengrass was able to do with that story, by focusing a good deal of time on the immediate situation rather than getting into a grand-scale, sweeping look at the terrorist aspect. But, after the countdown I watched the film that I now rank as #1 for 2006. It's probably a shocker, and one that nobody but Doniphon would potentially back - Brian De Palma's THE BLACK DAHLIA.

    The movie has been crucified by most critics and audiences, but I found the entire thing enthralling. There are moments in it where De Palma is nothing short of brilliant - the shootout leading to the discovery of the Dahlia's body is some of the best work I've ever seen from him. To be certain, there are faults in the film, but I almost think these errors help in the overall atmosphere. Does the whole thing not make sense? All the better, as the mystery at the center of the story never seems to make sense to those whose lives become consumed with solving it. This is probably the biggest limb that I've gone out on in terms of picking favorite films... actually, not even favorites in the sense of "guilty pleasures." I think this is an outstanding movie, not just one that I personally happen to enjoy.

  2. Well Jeffrey, this is a most distinguished choice, and I applaud the love for the Dardennes. Our own Joel Bocko also reviewed L'ENFANT yesterday at WitD in his 21st Century series. They are great for sure, but for me they don't rate with Bresson by a distance. Wonderful assessment here of their prime cinematic artistry.

    My Own #1 Film of 2006:

    The Fountain (Aronofsky; USA)


    The Lives of Others (Von Donnersmarck; Germany)
    Once (Carney; Ireland)
    Letters From Iwo Jima (Eastwood; USA)
    Inland Empire (Lynch; USA)
    Children of Men (Cuaron; UK; USA)
    Dreamgirls (Condon; USA)
    The Departed (Scorsese; USA)
    Babel (Innaritu; USA; Mexico)
    I Don't Want to Sleep Alone (Ming Liang; Hong Kong)
    United 93 (Greengrass; UK; USA)
    This is England (Meadown; UK)
    The Wind That Shakes the Barley (Loach; Ireland)
    Still Life (Ke Jia; Hong Kong)
    Syndromes and a Century (Weerasethakul; Thailand)
    The Prestige (Nolan; USA)
    Volver (Almodovar; Spain)
    Private Fears in Private Places (Resnais; France)
    The Queen (Frears; UK)
    Little Children (Field; USA)
    Reprise (Trier; Norway)
    Little Miss Sunshine (Dayton/Faris; USA)
    I Served the King of England (Menzel; Czechoslovakia)
    Iran in Fragments (Langley; USA)
    Rescue Dawn (Herzog; USA)

  3. Dave, as a major De Palma fan, I definitely owe THE BLACK DAHLIA another look! I saw it, I think, the day it came out in theaters and did struggle with it. I think I particularly had trouble with Hartnett. But I will definitely revisit it. I know how passionate you and Doniphon are about it.

    Thanks, Dave! Always great to have you here.

  4. Sam, I look forward to seeing your top pick! I know that it has a good number of fans.

    Great piece by Joel on this film. And thanks so much for the kind words. Always a treat to have you here.