The Ardennes (2016)
Writer|Dir: Robin Pront | Cast: Kevin Janssens, Jeroen Perceval, Veerle Baetens, Jan Bijvoet, Viviane de Muynck | 96min| Crime drama | Belgium
Robin Pront proves that blood is thicker than water, but that love doesn’t conquer all in his feature debut, a hard-edged ‘Flemish noir’ that explores the rift that develops between two petty criminal brothers whose relationship is put under strain after a burglary goes wrong.
The verdant rolling hills of the title give way to the rainy urban setting of Antwerp where their family echoes that of Bullhead – close-knit and protective of their own but always open to internecine resentment and small-mindedness. In fact the films share the same producer Burt Van Langendonck. But the only pâté made here is a by-product of violent head-butting and brutal violence between the males.
After an intriguing opening scene where a man struggles out of a domestic swimming pool, fully clothed and gasping for air through his stockinged hood, it turns out this is Dave (Jeroen Perceval/Bullhead), escaping from the scene of the crime but his accomplice brother Kenny (Kevin Janssens) ends up in the clink serving seven years for burglary. Once in prison, Kenny’s resistance to grass on his brother ends in a poke in the eye when Dave promptly runs off with his trailer trash ex-druggie girlfriend Sylvie (Veerle Baetens), who has aided and abetted the pair’s criminal career.
Kenny is less than pleased, on parole four years later, to discover that Sylvie is pregnant and shacked up with Dave, and it later transpires his former gang have gone straight and teetotal, and his only future lies in manual work. Clearly, these men are meatheads, and even their mother looks like she has had her fair share of punch-ups. THE ARDENNES spends a great deal of time painting a portrait we can already well imagine: grimy sink estates, violent outbursts of machismo, Sylvie vomiting and smoking riffs, and general cries of ‘Gott Verdomt’ but this sordid and repetitive detail adds nothing to a the tension of a narrative whose central thrust is: when is Dave going to spill the beans to Kenny about Sylvie.
The climax eventually comes when Kenny loses his cool and kills the owner of their local, giving Dave the leverage he needs – assisting with the disposal of the evidence. And this all takes place in the isolated trailer home of Kenny’s old prison roomie Stef (a slimy Jan Bijvoet), deep in the Ardennes countryside where Stef’s transvestite boyfriend cooks up a mean fry- up while Pront gets rounds to delivering the denouement we’ve all been waiting for. This is a decent thriller that could have been a bit tighter in the first two acts but all’s well that ends well, or doesn’t, in this arthouse tragedy that will make you re-think that walking trip to the gentle pleasures of Belgium’s Ardennes. MT
OUT ON RELEASE FROM 9 DECEMBER 2016 courtesy of STUDIOCANAL at CINE LUMIERE AND THE ICA AND CHAPTER CARDIFF FROM 16 DECEMBER 2016