‘The Ardennes’ (or ‘D’Ardennen’ in Dutch) is a Belgian movie. Why does it warrant a review on The Reel Place? Because the movie is slated for limited release next year, and the remake rights have just been bought by an American studio. However, it remains to be seen whether the story and setting can be adapted. The titular Ardennes (in the south of Belgium, where French is the de facto language) are mostly forested, sparsely populated, and strikingly beautiful. What is the American equivalent? A remote place in Colorado, perhaps?
The protagonists of ‘The Ardennes’ are brothers Dave and Kenneth. In the prologue, they commit a crime that goes off the rails. Kenneth is busted, but Dave and Kenneth’s girlfriend Sylvie go scot-free. She decides not to jeopardize her luck and make something of her life. By the time Kenneth gets released from jail, the dynamics between the three characters have changed in new and interesting ways. Ups and downs battle for a status quo, but nothing will ever be as it was before.
Dave is played by Jeroen Perceval (‘Bullhead’), who co-wrote the script with first-time director Robin Pront. Both guys deserve credit for sketching hard-boiled, seasoned and battered characters. There are no caricatures. There are no clichés or stereotypes. The main players stumble, try, and fail, always looking for the fabled silver lining. Perceval is a terrific actor, and has no trouble stepping into the bruised skin of Dave. Of course, it helps when you have written the screenplay. Kevin Janssens incarnates Kenneth with scars and a horrible 90’s haircut and disappears into the role. Soon after wowing the crowd at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival, he signed a contract with an American agency. Expect more of Janssens in the near future. Veerle Baetens (‘The White Queen’) took the cinematic world by storm with her starring role in ‘The Broken Circle Breakdown’ (Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Language Film in 2014). Her Sylvie is a fearless mix of desperation, sadness and determination.
Cinematographer Robrecht Heyvaert (Image, Black) shows the same eye for beautiful shots as Michael Chapman, Julio Macat or Dean Cundey. He shoots a phenomenal one-taker in which Sylvie talks with Dave about yearning for a normal life, an average, boring life where she gets to pick up her kid, cook, crash on the couch and watch a mind-numbing tv show. The camera moves as a silent witness, and creates an elegiac, touching and poignant scene. So little of value is said, while so much of emotion is implied. Amazing.
The soundtrack is a brilliant compilation of rancid electro rave tunes that evoke the mindset of the two brothers back when they were party animals. Before the dark times (though not before the Empire), before the heist gone awry. When their lives were still simple, though already miserable.
‘The Ardennes’ is a raw crime drama. There’s little gratuitous violence, but the somber atmosphere and chilling coldness of the characters are an acquired taste. Lest I forget, the dénouement offers a major shock that few will ever forget. With a fantastic cast and excellent production value, ‘The Ardennes’ is well worth discovering in American cinemas in 2016.