Each time I come across another Dardenne film, I am compelled to position them alongside Tawianese film maker, Hsiao-hsien Hou and Robert Bresson. Such is the control over the space which the characters inhabit, for a spectator it becomes a real matter of academic and intellectual study. Perhaps this is a cinema of cinephile obsessiveness, reflected in the deeply serious concern for contemporary social themes and anxieties. Much has been written about the ephemeral nature of the female characters that occupy the post industrial landscape of Seraing (Belgium) and Lorna, an Albanian immigrant, continues the moral and spiritual crisis they suffer before they can come to terms with the contempt with which society enslaves those who are adrift in the forgotten underclass. Oddly enough, the real change in direction for The Dardennes in terms of adhering to the principles of an orthodox neo realist style is the convoluted and at times hard to follow plot. This is arguably one of the weaknesses and though it is a complicated plot goes only to underline the idea that even Lorna cannot fully comprehend the complexity of the scam in which she has become entangled. At first, The Dardennes seem to want to make a powerful statement about the desperation of European migrants but the second half of the film moves into an entirely ambivalent direction, observing and detailing with great emotional honesty how morality is an aspect of humanity that cannot be negotiated with in terms of money.
Lorna makes a deal with Fabio (Fabrizio Rongione), a shady Italian taxi-driver who is involved a number of scams with desperate immigrants
Time and time again, the Dardennes have proved in all of their films that avoiding the trap of over explanation and giving the audience the bare minimum in terms of both characterisation and narrative expresses a trust and confidence in allowing the spectator to become actively involved in the process of interpretation. The Dardennes have fully embraced a minimalist style of film making and the dependency on location shooting, natural lighting and non professional actors serves to anchor the vehement humanist agenda that links many of the films. Some critics have compared them to British film maker, Ken Loach, but this may not be entirely fair (not that this is a complement either) considering that the Dardennes are scientifically subservient to a rigorous cinematic approach. Unlike the Dardennes consistently neo realist style, Loach has never been afraid of compromising style for ideological demands. It is the overt transparency of a strong political agenda that separates Ken Loach from the Dardennes. Most of Loach's cinema continues to be driven by a leftist impulse and though his films act as an articulate and perfectly noble expression of the British working class, he is an ideological film maker at his core. The Dardennes on the other hand are much more concerned with representing the social underclass through allegorical means of expression and I guess this is why many of their films succeed in providing us with stories of humanism that are free of sentiment and full of moral ambiguity and uncertainty.