The Dardenne Brothers Keep Making Masterpieces. Which One Should You Watch First?

Slate's Culture Blog
March 16 2012 11:34 AM

Where Do I Start with the Dardenne Brothers?

KidWithABike_still
Cécile De France and Thomas Doret in The Kid with a Bike.

Still © 2011 IFC Films.

Friday sees the release of The Kid with a Bike, and, if the critics are right, it’s the latest masterpiece from Belgian brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne. “Those Dardenne brothers,” Keith Uhlich begins his review in Time Out New York, “still making great movies with second-nature ease.” Or as Scott Tobias of the A.V. Club puts it: “The sun rises in the East. Cows say ‘moo.’ The Dardennes make another great movie.”

With the consistent filmmaking duo putting out powerfully affecting naturalistic parable after powerfully affecting naturalistic parable, those new to their movies have a lot of catching up to do. So we asked a few of Slate’s critics: What’s the best place to start for a Dardennes newbie?

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Pop critic Jonah Weiner told us that “The Son, The Child [L’Enfant], and Lorna's Silence are all fantastic,” and also noted that they’re all available on Netflix. Slate movie critic Dana Stevens agreed: “Their work is very stylistically uniform—in essence, they make the same movie over and over, but it’s always good.” For a newcomer, she said, “L'Enfant is pretty hard to beat, and really involving from the get-go.” Senior editor Dan Kois concurred with Dana’s pick: “If you’re looking for just one, do L'Enfant.”

L’Enfant tells the story of a young couple who discover that they will be having a child. Because they are poor and the husband (played by Dardennes favorite Jérémie Renier, not to be confused with Jeremy Renner) lacks the maturity to find a job and support them, they decide to sell the child in order to support themselves. Slate’s critics aren’t the only ones enamored of The Child: It won the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 2005.

L’Enfant may have been the consensus pick, but for those setting off on a more complete tour through the Dardennes’ work, Dana Stevens said it might be interesting to begin with La Promesse (The Promise), “because Jérémie Renier, who's sort of their muse actor (he plays the father in L'Enfant and the junkie roommate in Lorna's Silence) appears in it as a 15-year-old boy—if you watched that first and then went on to the later ones, you could see him grow up on screen.” La Promesse isn’t available on Netflix, but for $2.99 you can rent it on iTunes. And if you can track it down, Stevens advises that Rosetta—which won the Palme d’Or in 1999—“is also a corker.”

Forrest Wickman is a Slate staff writer. 

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