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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The First Responder

The Unknown Girl

The Unknown Girl may seem to meander in its midsection, but by the end it is gripping on every level. It’s a whodunnit complete with car chase. It’s a character study of a woman learning what her vocation will really demand of her. It’s a portrait of a community, impoverished and divided, whose only common link is the doctor. And it’s a portrayal of guilt, shame, and deliverance as rich and memorable as any I’ve seen [ . . . }

Read full post at: The First Responder | Eve Tushnet | First Things

In Search of… The Dardenne Brothers’ ‘Unknown Girl’ revisits their theme of ordinary people facing moral dilemmas 

Belgian filmmakers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne have been making movies together since the 1980s. The brothers, who write, direct and produce, are best-known for their breakout films, La Promesse (1996), about a young man (Jérémie Renier) whose father (Olivier Gourmet) trafficks African immigrants, and Rosetta (1998), a portrait of a disenfranchised teenager (Émilie Dequenne) who undermines a friend in order to get steady work. Nearly all of the Dardenne Brothers’ movies are about working-class characters who are compelled to make difficult decisions. Their latest feature, The Unknown Girl (opening Sept. 8 from IFC Films), represents a slight departure: Its protagonist is an ambitious medical doctor.Jenny Davin (Adèle Haenel) is middle-class. At the beginning of The Unknown Girl, she is on the verge of leaving her current position to join [ . . . ]

Read Full Review: In Search of… The Dardenne Brothers’ ‘Unknown Girl’ revisits their theme of ordinary people facing moral dilemmas | Film Journal International

‘The Unknown Girl’: What happens when the Dardenne brothers make a thriller

Every movie made by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne arouses my interest and admiration, ever since the Belgian brothers first burst onto the international scene with “The Promise” in 1996. Over the years they have become part of the small circle of directors to win the Palme d’Or twice at the Cannes Film Festival (for “Rosetta” in 1999 and “The Child” in 2005). In addition, they have won various other prizes in the same competition, in which every film of theirs is sure to be included. Their oeuvre encompasses such fine works as “The Son,” “The Kid with a Bike” and “Two Days, One Night.”The Dardennes do more than adhere, stubbornly and in their unique style, to the tradition of realist filmmaking that tackles social [ . . . ] More: ‘The Unknown Girl’: What happens when the Dardenne brothers make a thriller – Movies –

Dardenne brothers: “We felt the rhythm of the film was wrong”

“There is an American photographer who, every year, took portraits of his wife and her sisters,” Luc Dardenne tells me. “As they get older in the photographs they huddle together more. They become physically closer. They hold on to each other more.”So Luc and his brother Jean-Pierre have come together in this fashion? They are closer now than they ever were?“Ah, it’s like…” Jean-Pierre says and, as his English runs out, makes ambiguous gesture with both thumbs and both forefingers.

They need money from each other?“ No. No. Ha ha ha!” I mean they are scared.”If mortality is nipping at the film-makers’ heels they are putting a brave face upon it. Almost everybody who has interviewed Jean-Pierre and Luc – directors of such realist masterpieces as L’Enfant and The Son – has noted the pleasing contrast between the sobriety of the films and the gaiety of their creators. The Belgians could hardly be friendlier.“ Continue reading “Dardenne brothers: “We felt the rhythm of the film was wrong””

The Dardenne brothers: ‘Attacks on Obama to democratise healthcare are pathetic’ 

The Belgian siblings speak about their new film, why they are drawn to stories of female empowerment and how they think The Unknown Girl might be received in the US

Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, the Belgian siblings who have twice won the Palme d’Or, speak in Cannes about their new film. The Unknown Girl is the story of a young female doctor trying to discover the identity – and the killer – of a woman found dead outside her medical practice. They discuss why they are drawn to stories of female empowerment and gender equality and how they think the film might be received in countries such as the US, where the fight for universal healthcare continues.

Watch the Interview: The Dardenne brothers: ‘Attacks on Obama to democratise healthcare are pathetic’ – video interview | Film | The Guardian

Surprised about Wallonia’s CETA stand? You don’t watch enough movies

For two decades now, among foreign movie buffs, the European city most closely identified with rising anxieties surrounding globalization, immigration and economic dislocation has been the hard-scrabble Wallonian industrial city of Seraing, near Liege. Seraing is the hometown of Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, the celebrated Belgian movie-making brothers and repeat winners of Palmes d’Or at Cannes, who have set their remarkable explorations of economic distress in the region they know best.

READ ENTIRE STORY at the Source: Surprised about Wallonia’s CETA stand? You don’t watch enough movies –

MAMI Day 4: A mixed bag with Unknown Girl, Maroon, Multiple Maniacs and The Wailing | catchnews

The plot is simple, once , I walked out the doors, walked out the mall, ran five minutes down the street, got my bag checked once again, sat in for my second Indian movie of the festival, Maroon, and didn’t stand up for the national anthem again. It’s about a doctor haunted by the death (which she could have prevented) of an unidentified immigrant. This is the Dardenne brothers‘ tenth feature and stars a lead character who is able to show us her two sides without delving too deep into the character. It’s a misstep, but one that will still excite avid Dardenne brothers’ fans.

Full Story / Source: MAMI Day 4: A mixed bag with Unknown Girl, Maroon, Multiple Maniacs and The Wailing | catchnews