Throughout 2013, and perhaps beyond, Josh and I are challenging ourselves to view and review films that are part of the world-renowned Criterion Collection. You can see the post outlining the project here. This is our first official review post. I apologize that we were not as prompt with our review as I would have liked to have been. To amend my prior Criterion Challenge rules, we will be watching one movie every two weeks (but continuing to post on Mondays). Unfortunately, the one movie a week pace seems to be a bit too much for our busy lives.
Moving on to the reason you’re here, the review:
By the end of the movie, I was surprised at how much I had enjoyed watching it. The movie starts on a quite unsettling note, as you watch a young boy steal an old lady’s wallet. Next you watch the same young boy help his father smuggle illegal immigrants into their country, Belgium, and collect their life savings as payment. However, the movie proves to be full of scenes that encompass innocent and tender moments. It is the juxtaposition of these against the more troubling undertone of the movie that keep your full attention. Perhaps most present in my mind is a scene in the movie where the young lead, Igor, is riding in a go-kart with his friends after they spend time working on it together and completing it. That childhood joy and innocence sharply contrasts with the adult role that his father forces him to fulfill, which is why I believe the movie works. If there weren’t glimpses into Igor’s pure character, his unlikely friendship with the wife of an illegal who dies under tragic circumstances would not have felt believable. Igor is an easy character to root for as he becomes more aware about the negative impact his father’s dealings have on the lives of innocent people.
Perhaps the only part of the movie I didn’t enjoy was the very end. The wife of the dead immigrant finally learns the circumstances surrounding her husband’s death (an accident, but one covered up by Igor an his father). In that scene, she was about to leave Belgium and travel to Italy, where a cousin of hers lived. Upon hearing the news, she decides to stay in Belgium. You see her leaving the train station and the movie ends. Usually, I’m OK with endings where there is not much explanation and you don’t exactly know what is going to happen to the character in the future. A classic example of this (which Josh and I have hotly debated) is the final scene of Lost in Translation. It never bothered me that you didn’t know what Bill Murray whispered in Scar Jo’s ear. It didn’t bother me that you just had to assume he went back to his loveless marriage and she went to hers. Perhaps this is because they would always have those memories of their intense friendship while in Tokyo – that deeper human connection both of them were looking for. Unfortunately, in La Promesse, Igor and the widow, Assita, do not have an experience together that makes the rest OK. Their brief friendship is filled with her pain while searching for her husband, and Igor’s guilt as he lies to hide the truth He makes it right in the end, but nothing is actually alright. Does this make sense? Again, I’m the amateur of these movie review blogs. Perhaps Josh will be more coherent!
In all, I would absolutely recommend this movie. It’s beautifully shot, the acting is great, and it’s easy to get caught up in the emotion of the circumstances surrounding these tragic characters.
I actually enjoyed this film a lot. It’s nice to watch a movie that has such a tight and accurate focus on character and character development. The directors really manage to gather all of the viewer’s attention by shooting almost the whole movie without the use of wide or establishing shots. Almost every scene is shot medium or close up allowing for no excess visually and cementing the narrative, in a visual sense, firmly in the lives of the main characters. Another technical element that I noticed and enjoyed was the lack of reliance on fast cutting and editing tricks. To often now major films choose to be so cutty and fast paced, more like extended music videos than films. By using a ton of long takes and shots with no edits or inserts again the editors leave the focus on character, and more specifically the excellent performance of the lead actor, the boy playing Igor. By allowing the moments of the film to breathe properly without visual clutter the viewer is truly treated to a fully immersive experience.
I would definitely recommend this film to anyone with an honest appreciation of film as an art form. It is a highly focused and well executed work of cinema that manges to be both challenging and enjoyable.
If you’ve also watched La Promesse, we’d love to hear your thoughts. Please post in the comments! Make sure to come back in two weeks for a review of Josh’s pick:
Sword of Doom
Ryunosuke is a sociopathic samurai without compassion or scruples. When he is scheduled for an exhibition match at his fencing school, the wife of his opponent begs Ryunosuke to throw the match, offering her own virtue in trade. Ryunosuke accepts her offer, but kills her husband in the match. Over time, Ryunosuke is pursued by the brother of the man he killed. The brother trains with the master fencer Shimada. In the meantime, however, Ryunosuke earns the enmity of the band of assassins he runs with, and it becomes a question of who shall face him in final conflict.
Wishing you all a lovely start to your week! xo