Soldiers' Stories

A New Kind of War Film: Work as a Matter of Life and Death

In Dequenne's visceral performance (for which she shared the prize for Best Actress at Cannes), Rosetta's character is revealed through repeated, unexplained gestures-like pulling on a pair of rubber boots-that are as tense and ritualized as a warrior's. The boots are meant to protect her from the mud that covers the campsite and, like her mother's despair, threatens to engulf her.

From its handheld camera-work to its refusal to provide psychological interpretation, the film's storytelling is as naked and direct as Rosetta's fight for survival. "Rosellini called it 'the dry eye'-not too much pathos," Luc says, citing as reference points the Italian master's Germany Year Zero as well as Bresson's simplicity and the arid emotional terrain of Howard Hawks's Scarface.

This lean, taut style is also a product of a lifelong conversation. "With age, we need to explain much less-so many things are simply understood between us. Like an old couple," Luc says.

"Employment today is like musical chairs": Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne with Emilie Dequenne
photo: Robin Holland
"Employment today is like musical chairs": Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne with Emilie Dequenne

"Of course, as with old couples," Jean-Pierre adds with a laugh, "sometimes things end in murder."

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