Dardenne, Jean-Pierre and Luc

Dardenne, Jean-Pierre and Luc
▪ 2006

      In 2005, with their film L'Enfant, the Belgian brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne for the second time in six years won the Cannes Festival's Palme d'Or for best film. Only filmmakers Emir Kusturica and Imamura Shohei had previously won twice. Two other pairs of brothers—Vittorio and Paolo Taviani, in 1977, and Ethan and Joel Coen, in 1991—had earned a Palme d'Or.

      Like Rosetta (1999), the Dardennes' first Palme d'Or winner, L'Enfant explored life in an impoverished, gritty, industrial region in French-speaking southern Belgium, particularly around the city of Seraing, where the brothers grew up; the region was known for its steel mills, coal mines, and endemic unemployment. Both award-winning films also examined the circumstances of people on the margins of Belgian society. Whereas Rosetta limned the life of a young woman determined to find work in order to escape the grinding poverty of her life, L'Enfant was essentially a young man's story. Its protagonist, Bruno, is a 20-year-old petty criminal whose life is changed when his 18-year-old girlfriend, Sonia, bears their child. The story was inspired, according to the brothers, by an image that haunted them during the shooting of another of their films—that of a young woman alone seen daily aimlessly pushing a baby carriage.

      Jean-Pierre Dardenne was born on April 21, 1951, in Engis and Luc on March 10, 1954, in Awirs. The elder brother studied acting in Brussels, while the younger took a degree in philosophy. The video work of one of Jean-Pierre's teachers, French director Armand Gatti, provided their inspiration to use videotape to document the lives and struggles of working-class Belgians. It also determined their signature camera style: use of the handheld camera and a preference for improvised dialogue. Beginning in the 1970s they made a number of documentaries, establishing their own production company, Dérives, in 1975. To date the company had produced more than 60 documentaries, including Le Chant du rossignol (1978), about the Belgian Resistance movement in World War II, and Leçons d'une université volante (1982), concerning Polish immigration. The brothers expanded the production company in 1981, creating Film Dérives Fiction. With the latter company they made their first fiction feature, Falsch (1986), adapted from the play by Belgian playwright René Kalisky, and Je pense à vous (1992). In 1994 they further expanded their company to create Les Films du Fleuve. Among their other noteworthy nondocumentaries were the art-house favourites La Promesse (1996) and Le Fils (2002).

Kathleen Kuiper

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Universalium. 2010.

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