Morgan Marinne

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The Son Review


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The Son, co-directors Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne's follow-up to 1999's Cannes Palm d'Or winner Rosetta, is a thriller unlike any I've seen before. Its uniqueness comes from the fact that it's not a suspense film in the traditional sense - what keeps the tension at a fever pitch is not the narrative's progress, but the inscrutability and unpredictability of its protagonist, Olivier (Dardenne mainstay Olivier Gourmet, whose coiled performance won Best Actor at Cannes). A carpenter working at a juvenile vocational training center, Olivier is a meticulous, solitary craftsman who seems to live inside his own head. Not surprisingly then, the Dardenne brothers compose their film almost entirely from behind Olivier's cranium. The effect of such a visual approach is one of delightful sneakiness, as if what we're witnessing are surreptitious glimpses of the man's actual life.

With our gaze positioned directly over his shoulder - providing us with an all-too-intimate familiarity with Gourmet's ear hair - the Dardennes force us to assume Olivier's subjective worldview. Still, despite our proximity, scarcely anything about this strange man is initially decipherable. He's a quiet, pensive individual with a gift for measurement - he can scarily deduce the distance between any two things just by looking at them - living a life of stultifying nothingness. The filmmakers, however, take great pains to explicitly tell us as little as possible about Olivier. Most of what we learn about his personality is revealed not courtesy of high drama but instead through watching him perform mundane daily rituals: helping his students with their carpentry assignments, cleaning his clothes with an air blower after a day in the workshop, doing sit-ups on his barren kitchen floor.

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