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La Promesse (1996)


Igor is a fifteen year old sneak thief who works in a gas station as a mechanic's apprentice, but runs off frequently--too frequently--to help his father with his dubious business. For the most part this involves helping him run a scam whereby they smuggle desperate immigrants into Belgium, rent them flats in a run down tenement and exploit them for cheap labor fixing it up. Police protection comes by turning over a handful of illegals when the mayor wants to look like he's enforcing immigration laws. Their criminality and their treatment of their "clients" is off-putting enough that we can't root for them, but at least Igor does seem interested in cars--he's working on a go-kart with some friends in addition to his legitimate job--and his father is saving up to buy a house.

On their latest run they've brought over a woman and her child from Burkina Faso to join her husband, Amidou, in the tenement. But when Igor runs through warning that police inspectors are coming, Amidou falls off of some scaffolding and compound fractures his leg. Though Igor ties on a tourniquet, his father undoes it, rather than face the questions that would be raised at the hospital, and Amidou dies, but not before extracting the promise of the title, that Igor will take care of his wife and son. From here on Igor is torn by the competing claims of loyalty to his father and both the responsibility for the death they've caused and fealty to the promise he's made.

The boy's moral growth is made all the more difficult because he gets no guidance from his father nor from the ambient culture, where the mistreatment of such people is seemingly acceptable. That he does in fact struggle and mature makes this very dark movie worthwhile. [WARNING: spoiler to follow] It is especially satisfying because Igor ultimately sets aside the shallow claim of loyalty, which has come to have all to firm a grip on our moral reasoning. One winces when Igor protests that he won't be a snitch, as if his detestable father's mere blood claim on the boy could be more important than a man's life. It's not exactly the feel-good movie of the 90's, but it's well worth watching.

(Reviewed:25-Jun-03)

Grade: (A-)

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See also:


    -FILMOGRAPHY: Jean-Pierre Dardenne (IMDB.com)
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Luc Dardenne (IMDB.com)
    -INFO: La Promesse (1996) (IMDB.com)
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Jeremie Renier (IMDB.com)
    -REVIEW ARCHIVES: La Promesse (1996) (MRQE.com)
    -REVIEW ARCHIVES: La Promesse (1996) (IMDB.com)
    -REVIEW: of La Promesse (James Berardinelli, Reel Views)
    -REVIEW: of La Promesse (James Bowman)
    -REVIEW: of La Promesse (Acquarello, Strictly Film School)
    -REVIEW: of La Promesse (Jonathan Romney, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of La Promesse (STEPHEN HOLDEN, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of La Promesse (Kenneth Turan, LA Times)
    -REVIEW: of La Promesse (BRUCE KIRKLAND, Toronto Sun)
    -REVIEW: of La Promesse (Richard von Busack, MetroActive)
    -REVIEW: of La Promesse (Marjorie Baumgarten, Austin Chronicle)
    -REVIEW: of La Promesse (Peter Keough, Boston Phoenix)
    -REVIEW: of La Promesse (Jonathan Rosenbaum, Chicago Reader)
    -REVIEW: of La Promesse (The Man Who Viewed Too Much)
    -REVIEW: of La Promesse (Long Pauses)
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Jean-Pierre Dardenne (IMDB.com)
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Luc Dardenne (IMDB.com)
    -INFO: La Promesse (1996) (IMDB.com)
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Jeremie Renier (IMDB.com)
    -REVIEW ARCHIVES: La Promesse (1996) (MRQE.com)
    -REVIEW ARCHIVES: La Promesse (1996) (IMDB.com)
    -REVIEW: of La Promesse (James Berardinelli, Reel Views)
    -REVIEW: of La Promesse (James Bowman)
    -REVIEW: of La Promesse (Acquarello, Strictly Film School)
    -REVIEW: of La Promesse (Jonathan Romney, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of La Promesse (STEPHEN HOLDEN, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of La Promesse (Kenneth Turan, LA Times)
    -REVIEW: of La Promesse (BRUCE KIRKLAND, Toronto Sun)
    -REVIEW: of La Promesse (Richard von Busack, MetroActive)
    -REVIEW: of La Promesse (Marjorie Baumgarten, Austin Chronicle)
    -REVIEW: of La Promesse (Peter Keough, Boston Phoenix)
    -REVIEW: of La Promesse (Jonathan Rosenbaum, Chicago Reader)
    -REVIEW: of La Promesse (The Man Who Viewed Too Much)
    -REVIEW: of La Promesse (Long Pauses)

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