In three intensely naturalistic, psychologically powerful features, Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, a Belgian brother directing duo, have developed their own signature cinematic style (characters shot close up, often from the back), carved out their regional universe (working-class Liège), captured numerous awards (including the Palme d'Or for Rosetta at Cannes), and catapulted to near the top of the international festival circuit. This does not mean the cultivated American public has the foggiest idea who they are. The Dardenne Brothers, now in their fifties, learned their trade as documentarians (Belgium has a strong, gritty nonfiction film tradition). Traces of industrial documentary persist in their use of direct sound (harsh, clanking noises, no music scores), a loving factualism, and a respect for real-time work processes, now joined to a brisk narrative style of jump cuts and economical storytelling. The contradiction between these two senses of duration forms a complex tension of its own.
You can read the complete version of this article in the March/April 2003 print edition of Film Comment.