The Dardenne Brothers. There’s nobody in Hollywood, indie cinema or around the globe that can match the Dardenne’s realism work since the mid 90’s. They exploded on the scene 1996 with La Promesse and they now have a stellar 5 films that have landed in the top 100 of their respective decade. Two top 500 all-time films is impressive, but the consistency of their work, the Dardenne trademark (social realism, allegorical grittiness, handheld cameras—a cinema verite style) is what puts them past others with a similar quality filmography. There’s a dedication in their aesthetic. Their films are not overly flashy- they carry the baton of great neo-realists and realism in cinema since nearly the beginning of cinema itself.
Best film: The Son, I’d start here if you haven’t seen any of their work. This is gut-wrenching cinema, formally well-earned sentiment, and stylistically indicative of the Dardenne brothers.
total archiveable films: 7
top 100 films: 0
top 500 films: 2 (The Son, L’enfant)
top 100 films of the decade: 5 (The Son, L’enfant, Rosetta, La Promesse, Two Days, One Night)
most overrated: Rosetta – it’s not overrated overall by TSPDT, let me be clear about that, but it’s ranked as the Dardenne’s #1 film on TSPDT top 1000 and I think that’s simply because it came out before The Son and l’enfant. Like me, The TSPDT consensus takes a while to canonize.
most underrated: Not much here—The Dardenne’s are incredibly well-respected. They’ve won the Palme d’Or twice, the Grand Prix once, Best Director once. If I had to pick one, I think Two Days, One Night – (#15 of 2014 on TSPDT) is slightly underrated. There aren’t 14 better films from 2014.
gem I want to spotlight: L’enfant. A great story of redemption (one of their main themes) with their fantastic hand-held camerawork. It’s a powerful crusade.
stylistic innovations/traits: The two Belgium brothers are certainly the modern masters of realism and naturalism in cinema. I’m sure they both inspire and deflate the hopes of other aspiring filmmakers in this genre around the globe—- good luck measuring up to them. They employ long takes, existing locations, ambient sound and natural light to connect their subjects to their environment and put the viewer through a harrowing experience. Their films contain an intimacy and a certain raw energy. Most often their characters exist on the margins of society, thieves, black marketer’s, illegal immigrants, etc. and are locked into or thrown into painful issues usually surrounding money and/or family issues. They are formally disciplined and stylistically consistent. Their issues and content often have New Testament implications. It should be clear that I love their work- and I think their body of work is much closer to Rossellini’s and De Sica’s than their placement on this list might indicate. I’m relatively late to studying their oeuvre and of course I have that moratorium on the last 10 years so that includes two excellent Dardenne films (Kid with the Bike and Two Days, One Night). I hadn’t seen a single Dardenne brothers film until 2010 and to date I’ve only taken one lap through their films so these rankings and therein the Dardenne’s ranking on this list, most certainly will rise over time even if they don’t come out with another film (which they have).
- The Son
- Two Days, One Night
- La Promesse
- The Kid With the Bike
- Lorna’s Silence
By year and grades
|1996- La Promesse||HR|
|2002- The Son||MS|
|2008- Lorna’s Silence||R|
|2011- The Kid With a Bike||HR|
|2014- Two Days, One Night||HR|
*MP is Masterpiece- top 1-3 quality of the year film
MS is Must-see- top 5-6 quality of the year film
HR is Highly Recommend- top 10 quality of the year film
R is Recommend- outside the top 10 of the year quality film but still in the archives