Top 150 Most Anticipated Foreign Films of 2019: #12. Ahmed – Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne 

Ahmed – Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne

Top 150 Most Anticipated Foreign Films of 2019: Ahmed – Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne. 


The Dardenne Bros. turn their socially minded lens to religious extremism with their eleventh narrative feature, Ahmed. As usual, the Dardennes are collaborating with production company Les Films du Fleuve, returning to a template which saw them find early success by using a cast of unknowns. Having twice won the Palme d’Or (Rosetta, 1999; L’enfant, 2005), the duo are the most celebrated directors to have come from Belgium, making any of their projects of instant note. Besides their Palme wins, their offerings almost always leave Cannes with a major prize, including the Ecumenical Jury Prize for 2002’s Le fils, Best Screenplay for Lorna’s Silence in 2008, the Grand Jury Prize for 2011’s The Kid with a Bike, and again the Ecumenical Jury Prize for 2014’s Two Days, One Night (which also resulted in an Oscar nod for Marion Cotillard). Their 2016 feature The Unknown Girl (read review) was their only effort to leave the festival unrewarded.

The Dardennes turn to another topical issue with Ahmed, religious fundamentalism. While details are scarce, the plot concerns a young man who plots to kill his teacher following his extremist interpretation of the Quran. Early details are reminiscent of similar territory explored by Rachid Bouchareb in his 2016 Belgian set The Road to Istanbul, which explores a mother’s journey to search for her radicalized teenager.

Read about the Top 150 at: Top 150 Most Anticipated Foreign Films of 2019: #12. Ahmed – Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne –

The Dardenne Brothers – Masters of Social Realism


Rear Window. 2014.
Filmmaking brothers Jean Pierre and Luc Dardenne are known on the world film circuit for their social realist dramas, set in the former industrial city of Liege in Belgium. Film critic Emilie Bickerton talks us through their early career and their later obsession with the plight of working class people in their home city. teleSUR

Fim Review: ‘The Elephant and the Butterfly’

In “The Elephant and the Butterfly,” Antoine (Thomas Blanchard), mild and bearded, with a look of telegraphed regret, shows up at the home of his former partner, Camille (Judith Chemla), to ask how she’s doing. She laughs in his face, just about choking on her sarcastic chuckles. These two haven’t seen each other in five years, and she, for one, is fluent in the harsher dialect of post-divorce (that is, barely disguised loathing). Since they have a young daughter, Elsa (Lina Doillon), who lives with her mother, we’re curious to see how the hostility will play out. Continue reading “Fim Review: ‘The Elephant and the Butterfly’”

Meetings, moral situations themes of Dardennes’ films

It’s difficult to imagine the Dardennes brothers, who have made a scintillating career out of somber, unadorned verite dramas (L’enfant, The Kid With a Bike, Two Days One Night) playing anything for laughs, but at the end of our chat about their new drama, The Unknown Girl, there was Luc, upon hearing I was from Philadelphia, telling a long set joke via their interpreter based on my home city.

With the publicist glaring daggers at me for getting extra time, he told the joke in several long bursts of French, and in the end, touching as it does on identity politics and psychological complexity, it was a pretty good example of what you would imagine to be Dardennes levity. We met with the pair of white-haired Belgians at the Toronto International Film Festival, where their new film had just had its North American premiere (it’s now streaming on Netflix), as they held forth, mostly through a translator, about the ethics in their films, their dual writing process, and what happens when a businessman coming from New York has to unexpectedly spend a night in Philadelphia back in the ’50s.

Your last two films have to do with personal morality, specifically a path toward doing the right thing, no matter how difficult, and finding a kind of salvation in the process. Was it a conscious decision to systematically address these issues?

Jean-Pierre: It’s true that there’s a similarity between the two films: In both, somebody goes to see other people and it creates a moral situation. In [Two Days, One Night], the question is would I act in solidarity with the woman in front of me; and in [The Unknown Girl], it’s would I tell the truth to that woman? In this film, [protagonist Jenny, played by Adele Haenel], isn’t a judge, but still the characters have to put their self-interest behind them to tell her the truth, and in her guilt of letting somebody die, how does she deal with the question herself? In Two Days, it’s kind of the same moral questioning. We want the audience to question themselves, [make it] part of their own questioning.

Luc: Jenny was obsessed with the unknown girl. Thanks to her naivety, and innocence, we finally learn her name. This investigation is a quest for truth, [to] help her find her place in the world. The inner happiness that you’re talking about, the characters are finding it, but it should also resonate with the audience.

For a lot of people, they derive this inner solace from organized religion: For these two main characters, the films suggest the true path comes from your personal morality. Don’t look up at the heavens; look inside yourself. Is that fair to say?

Jean-Pierre: Don’t look up; but look into my eyes; in your eyes; our eyes. The camera is on the same level as the eyes of the character. We shoot at the human level, just the face of Jenny, the face of passion of the people who she encounters. I think in real life, it is the same: the moral question comes from the meeting, the encounter between the two gazes.

Jenny never acts out of anger, even when others are trying to hurt her. She never turns to rancor. It’s like she’s everyone’s conscience, waiting for people who have done the wrong thing to finally confess to her, almost like a religious figure.

Luc: It was important for us not to transform her into a professional detective, someone who judges others or is violent with them. We tried to build a character who is waiting for answers, but is able to keep silent and not violent. For example, the sequence with Olivier Gourmet, when he wants to hit her, it would have been possible to begin a fight, but we decided no, she’s not like this. She escapes and looks into his eyes with pride, and it’s enough. It was our challenge to build a character like this. It’s so easy to be violent.

I’d like to ask you about your working methodology. How do you work together on a script? Is it like the Coens where one of you sits at the computer and you just roll through it together, or do you work separately and come together to compare notes?

Jean-Pierre: When we make a movie, before writing, we discuss it for a long time, two months, three months, four months. “Yes. No.” You are not agreeing sometimes, but finally we find the same character and situation. It’s after a lot of discussion. On the flight, here in the hotel; not all the time, but often: the real fun. After that we feel the same character, the same age. Not the same face, not this actress or [that one]. No it’s not that. It’s the same feeling, the same feeling. When we have that, we can go.

So you work all this out before you even start?

Jean-Pierre: The beginning of the beginning, yeah.

Thank you.

Luc: You come from?


Jean-Pierre: Ah, we don’t know this city, only New York.

It’s a little bit south of there.

Luc: I know a joke from Philadelphia. Not in English. It’s very difficult.


Luc (via translator): The joke takes place in the ’50s, in the time when America was seen as very racist. There’s a sales representative who had to stop in New York, and he must take a train to Philadelphia. So he finds his own hotel because he has to wake up early in the morning. There’s just one bed left in a room, but there’s another bed where there’s a black person sleeping. He says, “No, I don’t want to sleep in that room, there’s a black person,” but he has no choice he must take the room. He says, “OK, but I want you to wake me up at 4 in the morning. Don’t mistake the two beds, I’m in that bed.” In the meantime, he doesn’t want to stay in the room, so he goes to the bar where people are partying, drinking champagne, laughing. He’s having fun and at some point somebody burns the champagne cork and starts disguising him as a black person. He starts singing a Louis Armstrong song, and he’s so drunk that people have to bring him to his bed in the hotel.


Luc (via translator): [The next morning], they wake him up. He jumps out of bed, he has to really rush, take his clothes, run to the train station and jump in the train. He’s “OK, I need to wash my hands and face because it’s the morning.” He goes to the bathroom and sees himself in the mirror and thinks, “the hotel is so stupid they woke up the black person instead of me.” At this moment this racist person has never been so close to his own reality because he thought he was a black person.

Translator: That’s a good Philadelphia story.

MovieStyle on 12/29/2017

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