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15-year-old Igor and his father Roger run a hostel for illegal immigrants. Peddling illicit labor in the outlying districts of Liege, Belgium, their lives are ruled by scams, lies and swindling. But when an African worker dies on the job, Igor's childhood innocence comes to an end, and he is forced to decide between keeping a promise he made to the dying man, and the betrayal of his morally bankrupt father.
For more about La Promesse and the La Promesse Blu-ray release, see La Promesse Blu-ray Review published by Dr. Svet Atanasov on August 15, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.5 out of 5.
Starring: Jérémie Renier, Olivier Gourmet, Assita Ouedraogo, Jean-Michel Balthazar, Frédéric Bodson
Directors: Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne
» See full cast & crew
La Promesse Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by Dr. Svet Atanasov, August 15, 2012
Belgian directors Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne's "La Promesse" (1996) arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Criterion. The supplemental features on the disc include the film's original theatrical trailer; brand new and exclusive new video interview with the Dardenne Brothers; and new and exclusive video interview with actors Jeremie Renier and Olivier Gourmet. The disc also arrives with an illustrated booklet featuring Kent Jones' essay "One Plus One". In French, with optional English subtitles for the main feature. Region-A "locked".
The main protagonists in Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne's La Promesse are a father and son who smuggle illegal immigrants into Belgium for money. They have set rates for their customers but occasionally do group discounts. They don't care where the immigrants come from, or where they wish to go, as long as they pay them.
When he isn't assisting his father, Igor (a very young Jeremie Renier) spends time in a local garage. The owner (Frederic Bodson) thinks that he wants to be a mechanic. Igor isn't convinced that fixing cars and bikes pays enough, but it is good enough to keep him away from school.
Roger (Olivier Gourmet) is a bully who lives to make money. He does not have real friends, only drinking buddies and a few lonely girlfriends who don't mind spending time with him because he always has cash in his pockets. He likes Igor, but not as a son, only as a business partner.
While waiting for their working permits most of the immigrants work in and around an old apartment building on the outskirts of the city. They fix what is broken and Roger rents the apartments to other immigrants. It is good business for everyone. After work, the immigrants drink and gamble, while Roger and Igor sell their families things they need, such as gas bottles. Lately business has been so good that Roger has figured out that in a couple of months he and Igor will finally be able to pay off their house.
Occasionally, the old building is visited by labor inspectors who want to make sure that Roger does not employ undocumented workers. Roger does not like them but there is nothing he could do to keep them away. The workers fear them because at any moment they could ask the police to raid the place and get them deported.
One day, one of Roger's workers, Amidou (Rasmane Ouedraogo), falls from a scaffold. Expecting the worst, he begs Igor to promise him that he would take care of his wife, Assita (Assita Ouedraogo), and their baby. When later on Roger sees Amidou, still lying next to the scaffold, he tells Igor that the best thing to do is hide his body.
La Promesse was the film that gave birth to "the Dardenne style" - simple camera moves, no fancy zooms or close-ups, tight framing, consistent tempo, the type most standard documentary films favor, and use of authentic locations. The film is notably bleak but at the same time because of its simplicity surprisingly elegant.
La Promesse is essentially a morality tale but without the feel-good twists most similarly themed American films favor. It offers an experience – spending time with its characters – rather than a complete journey. At the end of the film one is simply forced to think about the way things are, rather than how they should be. (The film is completely free of political innuendo).
Considering the fact La Promesse was the first film in which Gourmet and Renier had major roles, their performances are indeed quite exceptional. Both actors look remarkably relaxed in front of the camera and play their characters to perfection. The dramatic transformation Renier's character undergoes is particularly moving. Since La Promesse, Gourmet and Renier have appeared in a number of films directed by the Dardenne brothers, including The Son, Lorna's Silence, and the Palme d'Or winner The Child.
Note: In 1997, La Promesse won Best Belgian Film Award at the Brussels International Film Festival.
La Promesse Blu-ray, Video Quality
Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.67:1, encoded with MPEG-4 AVC and granted a 1080p transfer, La Promesse arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Criterion.
The following text appears inside the booklet provided with this Blu-ray disc:
"Supervised by director of photography Alain Marcoen, this new high-definition digital transfer was created on a Spirit Datacine from a 35mm blowup interpositive. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, warps, jitter, and flicker were manually removed using MTI's DRS and Pixel Farm's PFClean, while Image Systems' Phoenix was used for small dirt, grain, and noise reduction.
Transfer supervisors: Lee Kline, Alain Marcoen.
Colorist: Mike Joris/Studio l'Equipe, Brussels."
The Blu-ray release represents a dramatic upgrade in quality over the out of print DVD release New Yorker Video produced back in 2001. Virtually all aspects of the presentation, from detail to clarity and color reproduction, has gained a degree of stability that is simply missing from the DVD release. Despite the shaky camera work, the close-ups boast strong depth and definition, while the larger shots convey pleasing clarity. Colors are stable, never looking boosted or collapsing during darker sequences. Contrast fluctuates, but the fluctuations are a side effect of the raw cinematography. Some darker sequences also have softer than usual grain, but the softness can again be traced back to the original cinematography (see screencapture #14). There are no traces of excessive denoising or sharpening. There are no serious stability issues either. Lastly, it is obvious that various flecks and scratches have been removed as there are plenty on the DVD release that are not present on the Blu-ray release. All in all, this is a strong and competent presentation of La Promesse that is extremely easy to recommend. (Note: This is a Region-A "locked" Blu-ray disc. Therefore, you must have a native Region-A or Region-Free PS3 or SA in order to access it content).
La Promesse Blu-ray, Audio Quality
There is only one audio track on this Blu-ray disc: French DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. For the record, Criterion have provided optional English subtitles for the main feature.
The following text appears inside the booklet provided with this Blu-ray disc:
"The film was released theatrically with a 2.0 surround soundtrack. The disc, however, features a 5.1 surround soundtrack, remastered at 24-bit from the original LCRS magnetic masters used for the theatrical mix. Clicks, thumps, hiss, and hum were manually removed using Pro Tools HD. Crackle was attenuated using AudioCube's integrated workstation."
The films of Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne almost always have very basic sound designs. La Promesse is not an exception - dynamic movement is very modest and despite the fact that the film now has a 5.1 track surround movement is extremely limited. This compact sound adds to the film's rawness. The dialog is crisp, clean, stable, and easy to follow. The English translation is very good.
La Promesse Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
La Promesse Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne's breakthrough feature film, La Promesse, has transitioned to Blu-ray in impressive fashion. The film looks beautiful, easily the best it ever has. More importantly, Criterion have included an outstanding, over an hour long, new interview with the Belgian directors in which they discuss the film, their unique style and work. This is a must-own release for serious film aficionados. VERY HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
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