The Ardennes (2015)

The Ardennes (2015)
  • 4810
  • Unrated
  • Genre: Drama
  • Release year: 2015 ()
  • Running time: 96 min
  • Original Title: D'Ardennen
  • Voted: 4810

A brutal home-jacking goes hopelessly wrong. Dave, one of the two robbers, manages to run off, leaving his brother Kenneth behind. Four years later, Kenneth is released from prison and much has changed. Dave has his life back on track and is trying to help Kenneth however possible, but is witnessing how the highly strung Kenneth tries to win back his ex-girlfriend Sylvie.

1Kevin JanssensKenneth
2Jeroen PercevalDave
3Veerle BaetensSylvie
4Jan BijvoetStef
  • Exciting and ambitious thriller by 8

    'D'Ardennen' is Robin Pront's first feature film, but I'd have sworn it was made by a very experienced film maker. This is a well-made, exciting, and ambitious movie - a successful accomplishment in every respect.

    Pront hasn't made it easy for himself. To mention just one thing: the film is spoken entirely in the dialect of the Flemish city Antwerp. That means that even here in Flanders, it is shown with subtitles. Commercially, that's a drawback, but it makes the movie much more authentic.

    The film is built on a very strong screenplay. Two brothers commit a holdup, but only one of them manages to escape. The other one is caught and convicted, and is released from jail four years later. After the reunion, he slowly pulls his brother down in a spiral of violence and crime. His former girlfriend plays a crucial part in his self-destructive behaviour. The tense relationship between the two brothers is characterized by unspoken reproaches on the one hand and strong family ties on the other. The girl is the reason for the dramatic developments that lead to a bloody climax.

    Not only is this a very intelligent thriller, it is also a great movie from a cinematographic point of view. Pront and his cinematographer are very good in filming scenes through mirrors or windows, creating surprising and original effects. The crucial reunion between the two brothers is filmed in the rear view mirror of a car, accentuating the emotional distance that has grown between them. When they are having a meal in a restaurant, they are filmed form both sides of the window pane, with raindrops creating a nice visual effect. The locations are very well chosen: Antwerp is shown as an industrial wasteland, and the snowy hills of the Ardennes are filmed as a creepy place with weird inhabitants.

    The film slowly works its way towards a bloody apotheosis, which was a bit overdone to my taste. The story didn't really need the considerable body count, above all because at the end there is a surprising twist with much dramatic effect. But this is a minor flaw in an otherwise outstanding film.

    Just like Oscar-nominated Bullhead a few years ago, this is a Flemish film with international appeal. Too bad Belgium has already selected Jaco Van Dormael's last film for the Academy Awards.

  • See this now! by 9

    Belgian cinema has gotten more and more ambitious in this past decade, and that newfound self esteem certainly paved the way for something like "D'Ardennen". This is the kind of movie that takes guts to make, particularly when you're working on a shoestring budget. It starts of very slowly, but you really need the meandering (okay...boring) first act to appreciate what follows. Director Robin Pront gradually makes his characters more insane as the movie progresses, and plays with your expectations beautifully. The two brothers this movie revolves around seem like small time crooks, dumb guys who are down on their luck but good at heart. When you're proved wrong, it hits you like a sledgehammer. In the end, you're treated to one of the most messed- up plot twists I've seen in years. Nobody left that theatre smiling, nobody was even talking. If you can achieve that, you've written a pretty amazing and gripping ending. "D'Ardennen" is occasionally marketed as a cross between the Dardenne brothers and Tarantino, which is incredibly inaccurate: actually it's not like anything else I've ever seen, and just for that it deserves a lot of credit.

  • Trailer Trash from Belgium. Not the masterpiece it's said to be, but a good film. by 6

    What is it with films from Flanders that they seemingly MUST feature either farmers or marginal people in order to be successful? Prior to 1995 it seems like movies from here only revolved on farmer families battling against poverty and various other types of misery, whereas after 1995 the farmers were replaced by marginal people, but they were still battling against poverty and various other types of misery. Our most famous cinematic export product, the Oscar-nominated "Rundskop" (aka "Bullhead") even features a combination of both! Marginal farmers, hooray! But the term marginal is far too light to describe the lead characters in "The Ardennes", though. They're the equivalent of trailer trash!

    "The Ardennes" almost feels untouchable here in Flanders, Belgium. You're almost not allowed to say something negative about it. Ever since the release in 2015 - and even before already - this film has been incredibly popular and benefiting from a tremendous media buzz. Everybody loves it, audiences as well as critics, and I honestly wonder why it's so well-received and successful. Admittedly it's a competent film and much better than the overrated "Rundskop" or the pretentious but substantially void "De Helaasheid der Dingen" (aka "The Misfortunates"), but "The Ardennes" nevertheless remains a simplistic and clichéd tale with predictable twists and protagonists you can't possibly sympathize with. Especially the first half feels long, tedious and overly familiar. Fans of the film will undoubtedly call it a harrowing and confronting portrait of a suffering family in the lower middle class of Belgian society, but the simple truth is that it's a form of 'disaster tourism'. You're looking at trailer trash people and you're glad you're not like them. These people eat Flemish stew on Christmas Eve, listen to loud 90s house music in their ugly car, behave and talk like racists and participate in miserable drug-rehabilitation group sessions. There aren't any underlying messages or lessons to be drawn. Personally I'm 100% fine with that, but then please stop pretending it's a relevant film that shows how difficult it is to re-integrate into society after a prison sentence or how to get your life back on track after a severe drug addiction. "The Ardennes" doesn't do that, and I don't think writers Robin Pront and Jeroen Perceval ever intended their script to become a social requiem. In fact, the story can be described best as: the trailer trash version of Cain and Abel. Two brothers, jealousy and uncontrollable anger resulting in violence.

    Please don't get me wrong; "The Ardennes" honestly isn't a bad film, but it simply never lives up to the praise and compliments it is receiving. That's hardly the film's own fault. The second half, primarily set in the titular Ardennes, is more exciting and introduces a few fantastically eccentric supportive characters, like this hideous drag queen Joyce (Sam Louwyck) and the psychotic ex-con Stef (Jan Bijvoet). I swear, those two deserve a spin-off film of their own! The climax isn't too difficult to foretell, especially if you're familiar with mainstream thrillers, but it still comes as a minor shock even if you know what is going to happen. Lead actor Kevin Janssens deserves extra respect for the performance he gives. I read that the role was originally reserved for Matthias Schoenaerts (pretty much the only Flemish actor to have success in Hollywood). Taking over from him surely couldn't have been an easy task, but Janssens truly gives away a stellar performance. I didn't care much for him as an actor before, but he underwent a phenomenal metamorphosis here. The same can be said for Robin Pront. The film was supposed to be directed by Michael Roskam ("Bullhead") at first, but eventually Pront directed the scenario that he co-wrote himself. Kudos to him, because in his debut feature he certainly demonstrations copious amounts of talent, style, vision and surefootedness.

    Oh, and one last thing: I love the soundtrack! I don't care that it gets linked to criminals, drug-abusers and lowlifes; - Belgian house/dance music from the 1990s is awesome. Search for songs like "The House of House", "The First Rebirth" and "Rigor Mortis/ Flesh & Bones" on YouTube and concur with me!

  • Well-made and well-acted movie, but the mixed bag of criminal actions and family drama will not satisfy either genre lover by 7

    Saw this at the Ghent film festival 2015, where it was part of the official opening night. Programming a Belgian movie at a Belgian film festival may seem suspicious if not chauvinistic. On the other hand, for a prestigious film festival like Ghent's, we can safely assume they present something at the opening night deserving such an advantageous position. And indeed, it was worthy of its place. The one negative is the potential problem I see upfront due to the uneven genre mixing, criminal action next to family drama. It may not attract its intended audience, or others having bought tickets may find themselves misplaced during a screening.

    The story starts with the immediate aftermath of a failed home jacking. We never see or hear the ugly details, only what is shown to us in the opening scene where Dave enters the getaway car, obviously in sheer panic, while uttering words along the line that it all went very wrong and that they need to leave forthwith. When asked what happened with their mate Kenneth, no real answer is given. Later on we see Kenneth in court where he is sentenced to 7 years in prison, the maximum penalty due to his crime history. What really happened when he was left behind on the crime scene, remains unclear. Nevertheless, it still burdens their relationship when Kenneth is released after 4 years. We can only assume that Dave's failed part in the home jacking never became public, and that guilty secret is used by Kenneth after his release to blackmail Dave, pushing Dave to actions he actually abhors, stretching Dave's resolution to live as a law abiding citizen to the limit.

    And there is a second guilty secret, of a completely different category. Dave wants to tell Kenneth something all along, but we see that he never succeeds in finding the right moment or the right words. It has to do with Kenneth's former girl friend Sylvie, who we see initially as member of a self-help group, where she is applauded for staying drugs free for 2 years. It happens that the same Sylvie is pregnant from Dave, and that they are on the lookout for a home on their own. Hence it is logical that we see Dave avoiding involvement in any of Kenneth's actions. Moreover, for the sake of their worrying mother, Dave keeps a continuous eye on Kenneth, and even follows him on a distance on various occasions. Including the worrying mother, these are the four main protagonists that carry the story from start to finish.

    Kenneth's outfit, posture and hairstyle suggest overly clear (too much?) that he is a loose cannon without any intention for a career change. His behavior is overbearing from the outset, at first merely pushy yet without violence, but losing more and more restraints later on. In the last half hour, it escalates beyond control, thereby gaining nothing in the end and leaving only losers. His brother Dave succeeds in keeping his hands clean, though ultimately involved in an act of deadly force albeit as a matter of self-defense.

    We witness a lot of violence in the proceedings, but it is an inherent part of the story and not filmed just for shocking purposes. Most of the violence is suggested rather than shown in raw detail. Nevertheless, it leaves a depressed feeling on the viewer, at least that happened to me, by demonstrating that there are really people who think and live that way, and assume their own goals to be important enough to harm other people in the process.

    All in all, the focus of the story changes back and forth from criminal action to the relationship between the two brothers and the family members around them. Violence and crime are not the main ingredient, only the binding element to show how the relationship between the two brothers develops, given aforementioned guilty secrets kept from the outside world as well as between themselves. Though the violence is not made explicit, the criminal actions tend to distract from the real story that ultimately carries the drama. Viewers who are interested in action movies, will not be happy with the emphasis on family relationships. Viewers who are interested in family drama, will be discouraged by the crimes that overshadow a considerable number of scenes. In other words, a mixed bag that will not satisfy either category of viewers. Yet, well made and well-acted, but the final product is just above average by trying to humor two categories of viewers who both will leave the theater disappointed.

  • A distressing story about two siblings from Belgium. by 8

    This is another unblemished Belgian crime film production, wonderfully shot and with excellent performances from the -small in number- stellar cast. Kevin Jansenns ("Vermist", "Revenge") plays the role of Kenny a young drug-addicted thug and robber who gets out of prison after four years of incarceration. Jeroen Perceval ("Bullhead", "Borgman") is Danny, Kenny's elder brother who gets infatuated with his baby brother's girlfriend, the young waitress and heroin addict Sylvie (portrayed impeccably by Veerle Baetens). Danny is reluctant to talk to Kenny about his relationship as he seems to live on a world of his own where things remained still with the passage of time. Kenny believes he still can win Sylvie's heart even though she is obviously not interested anymore. The story will take a more suspenseful turn in its second half where the two brother's relationship will be tested under hard circumstances. This movie also casts Jan Bijvoet whose great performance we admired in the disturbing "Borgman" (2013).

    I will not reveal anything more about the plot as it would spoil a strong cinematic experience that proves that Belgian productions remain on the top of today's Continental crime film productions. This is a sorrowful story with a tragic ending where a shocking final plot twist overturns everything that we, as the audience, thought and believed about the characters. "The Ardennes" is a slow-burning masterpiece, it is the first full-length film directed by Robin Pront ("The Flemish Bandits", "Injury Time") and a movie that you will never forget as it succeeds in getting across to the viewer its gloomy mood and character. The two brothers story arc is moving as well as tragic and we root for them until the ending, never mind their evident flaws.

    This is a movie that I can recommend without a hint of reservation to all Euro-Crime fanatics out there, and especially those who are keen on Dutch and Belgian productions. Enjoy!

1Robrecht Heyvaertcinematographer
2Hendrik Willemynscomposer
3Robin Prontdirector
4Alain Dessauvageeditor
5Bart Van Langendonckproducer