Scen.: Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne, Alphonse Badolo, Léon Michaux. F.: Alain Marcoen. M.: Marie-Hélène Dozo. Scgf.: Igor Gabriel. Mus.: Jean-Marie Billy, Denis M’Punga. Int.: Jérémie Renier (Igor), Olivier Gourmet (Roger), Rasmane Ouedraogo (Hamidou), Assita Ouedraogo (Assita), José Dumst (Seydou), Sophia Leboutte (Maria), Hachemi Haddad (Nabil), Lyazzide Bakouche (Mustapha), Christiane Mutshimuana (Rosalie), Florian Delain (Riri). Prod.: Hassen Daldoul, Luc Darnenne per Les Films du Fleuve (Liège), RTBF – Radio Télévision Belge Francophone, Samsa Film (Luxembourg), Touza-Films (Tunis). DCP. D.: 90’. Col.
La promesse focuses on a teenager, Igor (Jeremie Renier), caught up in his father’s opportunistic and heartless exploitation of a group of immigrant workers from various countries. […] Work – or rather, the lack of it – is central to La promesse, as in all the Dardennes’ later films. Characters emerge and define themselves mainly through the movements and gestures of their labour whether it be legal or illegal, regular or occasional, collaborative or lone. This reveals the influence of the brothers’ own background where hard physical labour was fundamental in creating the identity and unity of their region. Much of the verisimilitude and intensity of their films derives from honestly portraying individuals whose life crises are caused by a need to do almost anything for money in order to survive. However, the brothers consider the new urban underclass to be either ignored or treated as a charitable cause by much cinema and television, so they carefully avoid placing their characters, black or white, foreign or Belgian, within a discourse that marks them simply as victims. […] As well as representing a profound ethical question in an everyday context and portraying marginal urban life in the postmodern age, a new and distinctive film style elevates La promesse from one more social realist exercise among many to an original work of cinematic art. Retaining a strong documentary impulse from their early work, the Dardennes’ unveil a cinema that grasps body and matter as the primary means of expressing their ideas. This involves detailed filming of persons and objects, so they use the close-up extensively. Almost a decade later, complaining of the screenplay of L’Enfant as too bound by ideas and by the psychology of the characters, Luc insists “we must find objects, small concrete acts, accessories, manipulations of accessories, things, stratagems”. He believes that cinema essentially films “very concrete things”, such as the escape rope fashioned by Fontaine out of pieces of sheet and iron wire from his mattress in Bresson’s A Man Escaped. […] The success of this telescopic approach – allowing the viewer to become an intimate witness of daily life in a non-descript location – depends also on the mobility of the Dardennes’ camera and its proximity to objects and persons. This style relies heavily on implying the space beyond the frame, a space that purposely hides more than it shows. […] La promesse announced the Dardennes to the international film world as uncompromising realist auteurs with an ethic of human responsibility and a distinctive cinematic vision. They did not rest on their laurels; this film was the starting point of a major career.
Philip Mosley, The Cinema of the Dardenne Brothers, Wallflower Press, London-New York 2013