Tuesday 27 February 2018

D'Ardennen (Robin Pront, 2015)

It's quite a coincidence that this film's title is very close to Dardenne, as the first hour could have very easily come from the minds of those acclaimed Belgian brothers.  Set against the backdrop of Antwerp, Robin Pront's film begins with brothers Dave (Jeroen Perceval, also co-writer) and Kenny (Kevin Janssens) bungling a robbery; Dave gets away, but Kenny is caught and is handed a nice stretch of jail time.  While Kenny is in prison, Dave becomes involved with Kenny's girlfriend Sylvie (Veerle Baetens).  Upon Kenny's release, Dave and Sylvie have a baby on the way but are understandably reluctant to tell Kenny, who unsurprisingly hopes to get back together with Sylvie.

Since Kenny's trial and imprisonment, Dave has been making a real effort to go straight, and now works in a car wash.  Thanks to his brother's efforts, Kenny - who is much more of a loose cannon than the quiet, thoughtful Dave - is reluctantly hired at the same place, but the pair are soon fired following a fracas involving Kenny.  Dave is under pressure from Sylvie to tell Kenny about their relationship, but the unwilling Dave's efforts to break the bad news are frequently foiled; meanwhile, Kenny suspects nothing of his brother, but rather thinks that Sylvie is romantically involved with the boss of a seedy nightclub where she works a few shifts.

While all of this works quite well as a drama in which familial tensions start to come to the boil, the film takes a sharp left turn at around the hour mark, where the action shifts to the forest region of the title.  By this stage, you would be forgiven if you'd forgotten that the film is called The Ardennes, but the two brothers venture there in search of Kenny's old cell-mate.  It's here that the fraternal squabbles will be resolved, albeit in an overwrought manner that's at odds with the film's carefully-constructed first hour.

This shift in both location and tone serves to undermine the film as a whole, and while the frozen Ardennes makes for a suitably atmospheric setting for the film to play out the high drama of its last couple of reels, it feels like there are two better, more satisfying films vying for your attention here; the first two thirds, as already mentioned, are more along the lines of the work of the Dardenne brothers, while the final half hour bears more than a passing resemblance to Fabrice du Welz's excellent Calvaire - a film which used a wintry Fagnes region to great effect.  The Ardennes is an odd hybrid, and while we've seen all of this stuff before, I don't ever recall seeing all of it in the same film.

While this jarring shift will be off-putting for many, the film is at least ambitious and does remain engaging for its duration.  Near the end, there's a great twist that I genuinely didn't see coming, but the film leaves you wishing that The Ardennes had stayed in the location of the title and another, separate film (Antwerp?) had been made.  There are a couple of good scenarios here, but each deserves their own time and space.  It's a curio, but by no means a disaster.  A region 2 DVD (in Dutch with English subtitles) is available.

Darren Arnold

Images: Diaphana