Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
Submitted by Belgium: The Ardennes
me, Belgium is a lovely country. You just wouldn’t know it from the cinema it
exports. They might show an unusual affinity for naturalism, but films like
Michaël Roskam’s Bullhead, Felix van
Groeningen’s over-hyped Broken Circle Breakdown, the Dardenne Brothers’ Two Days, One Night, and Christophe van Rompaey’s Moscow, Belgium paint a picture of an economically depressed,
crime-infested backwater nation. Their official Oscar submission for best foreign
language feature will not help their image much, but the withering portrayal of
human nature certainly distinguishes Robin Pront’s The Ardennes (trailer
opens this Friday in New York.
Ardennes was produced by
Bart Van Langendock,, who also produced Bullhead.
He seems to have the Dardennes’ number, since both films were submitted instead
of the auteur brothers’ more high profile releases. In the case of Bullhead that worked out okay for
Belgium. Maybe this time they inadvertently left off “D” and submitted Ardennes by accident (a film about
brothers). Or maybe it was politically expedient to submit a largely Flemish
film this year.
Dave de Swaef’s brother Kenny is about to get out of jail and nobody is happy
about it, least of all his former girlfriend Sylvie de Winter. She and Dave are
now together, but neither has told Kenny, because of his psychotic tendencies.
Dave does his best to keep his brother on the straight and narrow, but it is a
losing effort. The only real question is how far will Dave allow Kenny to drag
him down. That will probably be answered when Kenny forces Dave to accompany him
on a rather nefarious errand—one that requires the help of Stef, his seriously
nutty former cellmate now living in the Ardennes region.
The Ardennes really takes its sweet
time getting going. The first hour or so plays like the sort of miserablism you
could find in van Groeningen’s work. However, the third act veers hard into bile-black
genre business. Knowing the de Swaef Brothers is not a safe proposition, but
neither is being one. Pront and co-screenwriter Jeroen Perceval throw in the
kitchen sink down the stretch, including a homicidal transvestite (Social
Justice Warriors be damned), a flock of runaway ostriches, and a nasty punch
of the cast (particularly Veerle Baetens’ de Winter) seems thoroughly beaten
down and hopeless, in a very Belgian way, but not Jan Bijvoet as the bizarrely
flamboyant, alarmingly rustic Stef. He is one villain you really do not want to
mess with. Peter Van den Begin and Eric Godon add further eccentric flair as
the de Graef’s compulsive gambling boss and the forest ranger tracking the fugitive
ostriches. As the Brothers de Swaef, Kevin Janssens rages like a tempest and screenwriter
Perceval broods like crazy, representing opposite sides of the same
it finally gets to those wooded foothills, The
Ardennes packs a mean punch. It did not make Oscar’s nine-film shortlist,
but that is true of much more heavily championed films. It is definitely worth
seeing if you can handle its dark Flemish soul. Recommended for fans of gritty
crime dramas, The Ardennes opens this
Friday (1/6) in New York, at the Village East.
Labels: Belgian Cinema