Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Robin Pront's dark and devilish THE ARDENNES -- Belgium's BFLF "Oscar" entry -- opens

A few years back the little country of Belgium scored a major coup with its copping a Best Foreign Language Film nomination for its very interesting combination of crime, castration and farming titled Bullhead, which, among other things, brought actor Matthias Schoenhaerts to the world's attention. Belgium's entry into the Oscar sweeps this year is also crime-related, but TrustMovies suspects that this film -- a perfectly good crime-and-family combo called THE ARDENNES from first-time/full-length filmmaker Robin Pront -- was simply too dark and dismal to capture the Academy. (Belgium might have done better entering its fanciful/funny The Brand New Testament.)

Filmmaker Pront, shown at left, has given us something like a cross between a dark Scandinavian crime thriller and Animal Kingdom -- but with this family much less skilled in the ways of crime and socialization. His movie is by turns nasty, sad, consistently unsettling and even occasionally darkly funny, never more so than in a scene involving, yes, a bunch of ostriches on the loose. The settings range from prison to a bleak residential town to those titular Ardennes -- a very large patch of heavily forested hills stretching from Belgium and Luxembourg into parts of Germany and France -- in which the film's fraught and violent finale takes place.

The tale told here is of two brothers. one of whom has gone to jail for a crime without involving either his sibling or his girlfriend to the authorities. By the time he gets out of prison, the girlfriend (Verlee Baetens, below, right) is pregnant by the other brother, and it is clearly but a matter of time before the proverbial shit hits the fan.

This situation accounts for much of the uneasiness that Pront (who both co-wrote and directed) builds throughout. The character of the imprisoned brother -- high-strung and very violent -- accounts for the rest. As played by Kevin Janssens (above, left), this fellow is gunpowder, fuse and match all in one. His sibling (Jeroen Perceval, below, right -- during one of the bleakest "holiday" meals you'll have witnessed on film) proves a weak sister who can't seem to follow through on much of anything. This sibling combo proves as negative for all concerned as you might imagine. (Mr. Perceval also co-wrote the film.)

Violence moves from minor to major and then to a climax that offers plenty of the expected plus a very good -- well, very dark -- surprise. The movie lasts but 96 minutes, which is just long enough to contain the few days, post-prison, in which the plot unfurls. The pacing is tight, performances are on target, and all technical aspects are handled with professionalism and flair.

The finale, which brings us to that titular forest haunt, involves a couple of very bizarre characters, one of whom (Jan Bijvoet of Borgman, above left and below) was in prison with our non-hero and is now going to help him out of his "predicament," while the other is a tall transvestite (below, left) who would so prefer not to kill the victim to whom he's quite attracted. Still, duty calls....

For folk who appreciate dark crime dramas, I would think The Ardennes will be a "must."  For the rest of you, it's a matter of taste. But be warned: This is one very dank exploration of a bad-to-worse set of situations. From Film Movement, the movie opens this Friday, January 6, in New York at the Village East Cinema, and in Los Angeles on January 13 at Laemmle's Royal. To see all currently scheduled playdates, cities and theaters, simply click here and scroll down.

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