Talking pictures talking to people
by Anne Feuillère
- Diary kept between the end of 1991 and the start of 2005, followed by the screenplays of The Son and The Child, the story of an artistic adventure running to almost two hundred pages
First, second, third... up to anything between seven and nine versions of a script. Little by little, the characters are created, take shape and mature. Roles are cast in accordance with the actors’ ability to get under the skin of the character, or vice-versa. The shooting branches off, taking even the script a little by surprise occasionally. A certain style comes into its own, as do the methods of implementation... the genesis of the works, of a body of work, enfolds right in front of our eyes.
In his lecture notes, in his remarks about the films he sees, in the leitmotifs which define these fifteen years, Luc Dardenne highlights the names behind thought and subjectivity. They include "Jean-Pierre", the shadow cast upon each thought, as ghostly as it gets, forming an unframed "us"; one or two unlit names (Emmanuelle, Lucie); fathers: Shakespeare, Lévinas, Gatti... peers: Van der Keuken, De Sica... By collecting other images and words, the book is illuminated by the lights of a thousand thoughts … with Lévinas the brightest star in the Dardenne constellation. With respect to La Promesse, Luc Dardenne writes: "The whole film can be viewed as an attempt to reach confrontation point". A statement that can surely be applied to all their films. Reading Luc Dardenne’s book, one realises the extent to which the context – the violent frame in which the confrontation is played out – rather than the social question, lies at the heart of the films.
"Dardenne Brothers" films certainly have something of the thriller about them. But perhaps something of the western, too, the kind of western that has its roots in the No Man's Land of contemporary societies, those economic and emotional deserts that have turned into bloodthirsty arenas, the point of confrontation. "Thumbs up or thumbs down ?" is the dichotomy constantly addressed by these films. La Promesse, Rosetta, Le Fils [+see also:
film profile], L’Enfant [+see also:
interview: Luc & Jean-Pierre Dardenne
film profile], all tell the tale of (real and/or symbolic) murders uncommitted. Each of these films slowly constructs the nerve-racking route to the event, the moment of truth. An ever-present question, admittedly mythological, about the origins of man. For the man involved in the ebb and flow of life, this choice represents his own birth (in a human sense, one may add), his "moral journey". An existential, ethical form of film-making, a liberation cinema. The Dardenne characters move inexorably towards the moment of truth. They are beyond deconstruction, reducible only to the thickness that etches them in mystery. Opaque and distant, walking quickly away or filmed from behind, they are off in search of the face that will decide their destiny.
All these bits and pieces, recounted piecemeal by Luc Dardenne, highlight the imperturbable folly of the world. They bear the traces of a living nightmare: that the beast cowering within others is no stranger to us. Forever at our side, unspeaking, the camera stalks its prey. A matter of being there, or rather, of being part of it. Because this "other" could be you, it could be "us", it could be me. This is the cry that pierces Luc Dardenne’s book: "there is a fear of the human beings that we are, a fear of the evil of which we are capable, of which I personally am capable. It is perhaps to exorcise this fear that we show evil at work. That’s certainly one of the reasons... and also for the moment when a human being, one of the characters, escapes its clutches." It is precisely this moment that such energetic, passionate filmmaking inexorably hunts down, the evanescent moment that precedes revelation, that precedes an announcement on the verge of annihilation, that convokes us with its wishes: "The conversion of an individual in the darkness of the auditorium. The secret addressee of our films."
Luc Dardenne, Au dos de nos images, 1991-2005 followed by the screenplays of Le Fils and L'Enfant by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, Edition du Seuil, 2005
(Translated from French)