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Grief can make it hard to live,
And even harder to forgive,
And when we see someone to blame,
It’s easy to despise the same.

Yet kindness can bear added weight
When aimed at someone we could hate.
We might be able to start living
If we first attempt forgiving.
_______________

Rating: Unsure (Nothing objectionable I recall)

The Son (or Le Fils in French) is a critic’s movie; that is to say, it’s the kind of film that critics swoon over while ordinary movie watchers scratch their heads asking, “Is this great filmmaking?” Granted, I’ve never seen anything else by the French Dardenne brothers, but I had only heard good things and was expecting much more from these Cannes favorites.

The plot itself is extremely simple, the kind of story that could have been just as (or more) effective with a half-hour running time. I agree that Cannes Best Actor Olivier Gourmet is quietly persuasive as Olivier, a teacher of carpentry at a vocational school. In the beginning, there’s a drawn-out mystery when a new student named Francis applies, causing Olivier to stalk and leer and act almost creepy as he allows the boy into his class. Disclosing the secret taxed my patience, but its eventual revelation is shrewd and gradual. Let’s just say that Olivier has reason to not be so kind to Francis, and Olivier is well aware of it, even subconsciously. A perceptive example is when he calls all his students by name but refers to Francis as “you.” This standoffish benevolence puzzles Olivier himself, his ex-wife, the boy, the audience, and (according to the Dardennes) even the filmmakers themselves, yet I consider this up-to-interpretation uncertainty more of a weakness than a strength. There’s a subtle and admirable theme of forgiveness versus revenge, one that was lauded by critics for its naturalism, but in this case, the abrupt ending might have benefited from some additional dialogue, since even the words “I’m sorry” don’t make an appearance.

This somewhat stilted “naturalism” carries over to the camera work too. Olivier Gourmet is a good actor; it’s a shame that I mainly saw the back of his head. For the majority of the film, it is as if we are looking over his shoulder, as he walks down corridors, runs, drives, carries beams, and performs various other mundane activities. It reminded me of the beginning of Captain Phillips, but whereas that film only employed this technique for the opening car ride, The Son gets tiresome with its overuse. I will admit that certain scenes utilize this method strongly, such as when Olivier looks straight into the camera when backing up his car, but these are few and far between.

Perhaps when I see more from the Dardennes, I’ll see that this approach is simply their preferred style. Perhaps I just didn’t “get” it like all the real critics did. Perhaps further exploring their filmography will give me a greater appreciation for their artistry. Or perhaps I’ll simply watch something far more appealing, like Inside Out.

Rank: Dishonorable Mention

© 2015 S. G. Liput

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