….but both pretty much the same. Sometimes we think so much alike we scare ourselves.
Michael Koresky at Reverse Shot:
Realism, however you choose to define it, has always granted serious-minded narrative films their patina of importance. The evidence is not only the selection and status of titles such as Bicycle Thieves and The 400 Blows as enshrined classics but also the historical preference of Brief Encounter to Portrait of Jennie, On the Waterfront to All That Heaven Allows, and Raging Bull to All That Jazz. Story itself, no matter how constructed it appears, usually becomes merely a means of attaining verisimilitude, something that’s perhaps unavoidable due to the very nature of the recorded image. So even with narrative’s century-long primacy in the art of cinema, realism has always remained the medium’s most indelible property.
Taking this a step further, film criticism has for decades sought to create convenient separate boxes for realism and storytelling, in their purest forms—the document vs. the construction. There’s an implication, in writing from Bazin to A.O. Scott (in a recent New York Times Sunday Arts diagnosis of a new brand of—mostly American—“neo-neorealism”), that narrative filmmaking’s approximation of documentary aesthetics grants a necessary gravitas to “written” material that would otherwise seem false, and that the purity of the mission to capture life as it’s veritably lived, often by those most marginalized by society (and thus supposedly disenchanted from life’s tidy narratives of hope and reclamation, etc.), blazes so bright that it necessarily leaves no room for such trivial matters as beginnings, middles, and ends.
The Dardenne brothers, Jean-Pierre and Luc, have for the past decade undoubtedly benefited from such critical designations and preferences, as their grittily shot, tightly edited narratives peek at contemporary lives on the outskirts with a no-nonsense immediacy that allows viewers to believe they’re watching Life as It’s Really Lived. (And it’s all the easier to buy this realism when those in focus are people most of their audience would normally block out while on their daily urban travels.) Yet in the galvanizing lineup of films they’ve generously put forth since their breakthrough, La Promesse (1996), the Dardennes have demonstrated, contrary to the critical company line, that they’re much less interested in presenting life through a documentary-like lens than they are at constructing finely calibrated narratives, predicated on suspense, third-act turnarounds, parallelism, etc. Read the rest.
Jeff Reichert at indieWIRE:
Initial word from Cannes on “Lorna’s Silence” generally dismissed the Dardennes’ latest as a bit of comedown from the dizzy heights of international critical admiration that greeted “Rosetta,” “The Son,” and “L’Enfant.” Even if their new film managed to eke out a Best Screenplay award (not quite the Palme, which they’ve won twice already), it only served to underscore the varied complaints: noirish elements, belabored transcendence, and the overall sense that the brothers, having reached some kind of pinnacle in capturing unlikely ephemeral grace amongst bottom-dwelling Belgians, had perhaps run out of steam. A screenplay award suggests worked-through plottiness, narrative-driven twists—the kinds of things the Dardennes had allegedly been eschewing all along in favor of proffering up heaving portions of cinematic truth. However, if one ignores the party line and takes a more measured examination of their works, it turns out that the Dardennes aren’t really purveyors of unvarnished reality at all, just crafty, wildly skilled storytellers hellbent on manufacturing suspense and that “Lorna’s Silence” is just the latest demonstration of their mastery of the narrative art.
In the cold light of (non-cinematic) reality, it’s hard to know exactly where one splits the line between a film like “Lorna’s Silence” and “L’Enfant” or “The Son.” Each is centered around a working-class character who makes a crucial, potentially life-affecting decision involving a criminal activity either pondered or committed and then proceeds to wrestle with the effects of that choice, generally sparking a third-act revelation or twist. Read the rest.
So basically, what we’re saying is…. just go see it.