La Promesse (1996)

Genres - Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Coming-of-Age, Family Drama  |   Release Date - Jun 16, 1997 (USA - Limited)  |   Run Time - 90 min.  |   Countries - Belgium , France , Luxembourg   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Tom Wiener

The moral dilemma in La Promesse -- whether to honor family loyalty or expose wrongdoing by a member of your family -- is made all the more difficult when the person caught in the middle is a teenager who wants nothing more than to drive go-carts and just hang out. Igor (Jeremie Renier) is that boy, and his life is bound up with his hard-working father's schedule, which involves illegal activities (immigrant smuggling) compounded by worker and tenant exploitation. Igor loves his old man, Roger (Olivier Gourmet), even if the guy can get a little testy and violent at times. There's a lovely scene in which they go to a bar, Igor at first sulking about some disagreement, but sliding into a haze of affection fueled by alcohol (on Roger's part) and communal singing. It's only when Igor agrees to honor a promise asked by a dying man that he's forced to see Roger's activities for what they are. Brother filmmakers Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne skillfully pull us into this world, filming with a handheld camera in available light, to reflect Igor's growing sense of dislocation and the shadowy world in which he and Roger live. Renier, with his thatch of blonde hair that's almost white, and Gourmet, burly and alternately menacing and affectionate, play off each other well, creating a complex father-son relationship rarely seen in recent films.