In their films, the Dardennes are most interested in detailing an encounter with an other, with someone or something outside oneself. The Son accomplishes this through the protagonist Olivier. The film's style keeps us insulated in his narrow and uncertain world. There remains throughout a strange otherness to the boy's character, an otherness that destabilizes what we know (or think we know about Olivier). This brilliantly creates tension and makes the conclusion that much more compelling.
While I liked Haroun's film Daratt a bit more for its thematic depth, this simple story of two brothers' fight for survival reveals his talent and skill as a filmmaker. I loved the chemistry of the two brothers, the occasional insertion of dry humor, and the underlying sense of hope. Haroun's film charts both the loss of one's old identity and the search for a new one in the face of cataclysmic change. As in life, some will fail, while others persevere.
An incredible piece of filmmaking from Costa. The rich imagery and stunning sound design of this downbeat area of Lisbon gives the film its vitality, while the pacing, the barely moving camera, and the non-expressive characters suggest the near-absence of life in this section of the city. And yet, the regular sounds of chatter, laughter, and animals suggest that life continues on, vibrant, full, and most of all, somewhere else.
The patient camera in this film serves to build both suspense and a sense of the poetic. Director Haroun offsets his characters from the bland settings with colorful clothing and the floods of emotion running just below the surface. And the film goes beyond the comparatively simple and more popular question of the validity of war on to the subtler and more complex question of how to live as neighbors with the former opposition. The conclusion is beautifully enigmatic.
Petersen does a great job mixing intense action with long periods of waiting, increasing the tension and sense of pressure on these men. He also takes a hard and unflattering look at war--the courage and sacrifice of soldiers is honored, even as the film seems to question the point of it all. Modern warfare is such a destructive force, one which relies so little on physical contact from enemies. Petersen also includes a moment of grace that's as well played as anything in the movies.