This potent Belgian feature (2002) by brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne is every bit as good as their La promesse and Rosetta. Unlike them it can't be described in detail without telegraphing the plot's carefully structured exposition, but it involves a carpenter and teacher at a vocational workshop (Olivier Gourmet) who takes on a 16-year-old boy as an apprentice, with cataclysmic consequences. Gourmet, who played the hero's father in La promesse and the heroine's employer in Rosetta, gives a strong and nuanced performance that deservedly won him the best actor prize at Cannes. The Dardennes' extremely physical and visceral camera style plunges the viewer into an emotional maelstrom, and their subtle, unpredictable sense of character is predicated not on coercion of the audience but on an extraordinary respect for the viewer as well as the characters. To my knowledge there's no one else making films with such a sharp sense of contemporary working-class life—but for the Dardennes it's only the starting point of a spiritual and profoundly ethical odyssey. In French with subtitles. 103 min.

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