From splash to bang.
Flemish director Robin Pront shouldn’t be expecting an award from the Belgian tourist bureau anytime soon. His film, The Ardennes presents a country in shades of gunmetal gray, with factory chimneys belching black smoke, dead-end jobs, sub-standard housing and nary a waffle in sight.
Our story opens on the immediate aftermath of a botched robbery attempt: Dave (Jeroen Perceval, Borgman) makes it to the getaway car—panting heavily, his face still concealed beneath a nylon stocking—but his brother Kenny (Kevin Janssens, Home) is not so lucky, and winds up earning a four year prison stay. Flash forward forty eight months later, to Kenny’s release.
A lot can change in four years. Dave has gone straight, with three years of sobriety and a steady job at a local car wash. He’s also fallen in love with and impregnated Kenny’s long-time girlfriend, Sylvie (Veerle Baetens, The Broken Circle Breakdown). Currently, the happy couple are house-hunting and planning a future together. Of course, Dave realizes that a serious conversation with Kenny is in order, but he’s waiting for the right time—like if and whenever his big brother loses that quick, homicidal temper.
Two once inseparable brothers, now walking different paths—hardly an earth-shakingly original premise, right?
Fair enough, but dismiss The Ardennes out of hand and you’ll only be cheating yourself. Pront’s feature length debut (co-written with Perceval) more than makes up for its shop-worn set up, delivering an immediately absorbing tale of ever-increasingly high stakes and surprises so subtly revealed that they never beggar believability. Unless you come from the land of Brussels sprouts and Wallonian Farmhouse Yeast, this cast will no doubt be unfamiliar to you, but what a first impression they make. Though officially unrated, this nifty little imported gem, while hardly exploitative, isn’t recommended for those with especially delicate eyes and ears.
Film Movement brings The Ardennes to DVD with a solid anamorphic transfer that faithfully translates Pront’s potpourri of danger, gallows humor and unrelenting bleakness (itself skillfully recorded by cinematographer Robrecht Heyvaert, Black), and a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track pitching in the film’s olio of languages—Flemish, French and even a bit of the King’s—and musical styles, ranging from Adamo to EDM.
Bonus features include an equally arresting, earlier Pront/Perceval collaboration, Injury Time, which runs nearly sixteen minutes, about the same length as a “Making of The Ardennes” featurette, also included here. Additionally, there’s an audio commentary track by Pront and Janssens, who also show up together in an eight minute interview segment.
While hardly on the level of Citizen Kane, The 400 Blows, or Reservoir Dogs, this plucky little Belgian thriller heralds the arrival of a young filmmaker that discriminating film fans should keep an eye out for. And given Pront’s preferred subject matter, it might also be wise to keep from turning your back on him.