Best Introduction: La Promesse (The Promise). A father and son (Dardennes regulars Gourmet and Jeremie Renier respectively) rent apartments to illegal immigrants and wind up falling apart after one of their tenants dies accidentally. This film is more grounded in a narrative than most of the Dardennes’ work and is their most straight-forward.
Do Not Start Here: Lorna's Silence. The Dardennes’ most recent drama before The Kid on the Bike, their new film premiering Saturday, could really throw you off if you’re not sure what to expect from them. Many consider the film’s character study, of an Alabanian immigrant whose junky boyfriend (Renier) forces her to marry a Russian smuggler, as a departure from the Dardennes’ usual preoccupations.
Most Accessible Film: L'Enfant (The Child). This Palme d'Or-winning character study is the brothers’ least aggressive, both stylistically and narratively, of their recent fiction dramas (they started as documentarians). It follows a young petty thief (Renier) and his rocky relationship with his wife and new-born son.
Potentially Most Alienating Film: Le Fils (The Son). This award-winning, meandering character study of a middle-aged manual laborer (Gourmet) haunted by a young boy (Renier) is probably also the Dardennes' best. The directors don't explicitly spell out how the two characters are related to each other until late in the film, preferring instead to let Gourmet’s furtive pursuit of Renier speak for itself.
Stylistic Signature: Digital photography and long takes. Le Fils best embodies the Dardennes’ recognized style, especially in its pervasive use of long takes following Gourmet’s character.
Thematic Preoccupations: Immigrant and lower-class travails. The Dardennes’ films often follow characters who are trapped by their own poor decisions and lack of resources. Given their stations in life, they often can’t prevent themselves from committing crimes or otherwise putting both themselves and their families in immediate danger. Fortunately, the Dardennes rarely judge their protagonists either for their flawed behavior or impoverished living conditions.