The Son (Le Fils) Reviews
Olivier (Olivier Gourmet) is a carpenter who teaches carpentry to troubled teens in the juvenile criminal system learning a vocation. Olivier's routine is interrupted by the enrollment of a new student, Francis (Morgan Marinne), who becomes the object of the carpenter's inexplicable obsession. Initially, Olivier does not tell his wife Magali (Isabella Soupart) about the situation, but after careful consideration, Olivier reveals the secret to her--Francis is the teenager who murdered their child years before hand. After serving his sentence in the juvenile prison, Francis seeks to start anew, and eventually even asks the flummoxed Olivier to become his guardian. Olivier withholds his knowledge from Francis, even as a tentative relationship between the two develops. The tense scenario leads to a climactic confrontation, as the past finally catches up with teacher and student.
Belgian filmmakers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne visual style is claustrophobically disorientating. The camera stays tight on Olivier Gourmet--he is in almost every shot, a handheld camera films him from his shoulders up, subjecting him to a scrutiny we rarely encounter onscreen. The scrutiny pays off, for soon we're able to read into the face of this unsmiling man and an underlying sorrow. This also adds to the sense of suspense and unknowing, while the jerky camera cuts suggest his internal agitation. The film is stripped-bare, and only the essential elements remain.
The true challenge posed by the film is not piecing together the story, nor teasing out its meaning, but embracing its implications in our own lives. Not that "The Son" is a "message" film - it isn't - but it is one of the most profoundly moral and human films I have seen in years. On first viewing, the films rigorous method makes for a comparatively demanding viewing. The Dardennes aren't interested in entertaining the viewer-- but in something far more valuable. The difficulty of the first viewing can become challenging, though, ultimately becomes irrelevant in light of its extraordinary rewards.
The handheld camera, with almost exclusive use of close-ups and shoulder shots, with only tilts and pans revealing information instead of cuts or wide shots. Very tedious and grating to watch. This lessened my enjoyment of the film. Nonetheless, I do recommend this small gem that starts off slow, allows the suspense to build, the anger to simmer, and finally culminates with a satisfying payoff.