Money for Nothing

Issue section: 

Review of 'The Child', directors: Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne

The Child is, after Rosetta in 1999, the second film by the Belgian Dardenne brothers to have won the Cannes Festival Palme D'Or. Whether or not winning this prize is a sign of quality, it is definitely a sign of the revival of European cinema. In the last few years it seems that films which makes you think have come back - the films of Lars von Trier, The Beat That My Heart Skipped by Jacques Audiard or more recently the gripping Hidden by Michael Haneke.

In the case of the Dardenne brothers they not only make you think but also take you to look at the lives of those who are left on the margins of society. The Child takes place in Seraing, a town in Belgium which suffered a lot after the demise of its industries. It has an unemployment figure of around 20 percent.

The story of the film revolves around a young couple, Sonia and Bruno. Both are unemployed, and live off benefits and Bruno's petty thief activities. Sonia has just given birth to their first child. We see her trying to find Bruno just after leaving the hospital. She goes to her flat, which Bruno has sublet, only to be rebuked by having the door slammed in her face by the new tenants.

Whereas Sonia is enthused by their child, Bruno is distant, more preoccupied by finding new ways of making quick money or the things he has just bought. This is even more apparent when they go to get Sonia's benefits. Bruno takes a stroll with the baby and decides to phone his contact to see how much money he could get by selling the boy. And he does sell him.

From then on the tension of the film is very high, and the directing helps it a lot. The Dardenne brothers started out by making documentaries and this film is very much in that style. The use of shaky hand-held camera, always very close to the protagonists, the absolute lack of background music, and the scenes where the actors are filmed from behind make it impossible not to feel immersed in this film. It is almost as if you were present, like a passer-by stopping and listening to what's happening in front of your eyes.

Of course this kind of directing can only work if the actors can handle it. And they do. Jérémie Renier, who made his debut in another film by the Dardennes, is very good at playing the childish, selfish young man. Déborah François, making her debut, is just excellent - a performance which holds much for the future.

Although The Child tends to flirt with moralism, the directors' humanism and contribution to a renewal of a more social and realist cinema is more than welcome.