On Sunday evening, as part of the monthlong series In Transit: Refugees on Film, the UCLA Film & Television Archive will screen a 35 mm print of Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne’s La promesse (1996). Set in the filmmakers’ dreary industrial hometown of Seraing, Belgium, this hardscrabble drama of moral awakening tells the story of a teenager (Jérémie Renier) torn between loyalty to his father (Olivier Gourmet), who makes a living by exploiting the labor of undocumented immigrants, and concern for the wife and child of a West African man who has suffered a fatal accident on the job. With La promesse—their third narrative feature and their international breakthrough—the Dardenne brothers drew on their prior documentary work to arrive at the urgent and compassionate strain of social realism that has since become their signature, using intimate and often hectic handheld cinematography to show characters struggling through straitened circumstances. For a closer look at this unique style of shooting, watch the below excerpt from a supplement on our release, in which Gourmet and Renier, both of whom would go on to become frequent Dardenne collaborators, discuss how the filmmakers’ responsive camera helps shape the actors’ performances.
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