La Promesse – The Criterion Collection #620 (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

August 22, 2012 by  

A thought provoking, moralistic drama that introduced the world to the Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne and the “Dardenne Style” of filmmaking.  “La Promesse” is highly recommended!

Image courtesy of ©Les Films du Fleuve -Touza Productions. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: La Promesse – The Criterion Collection #620


DURATION: 93 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (1:66:1 Aspect Ratio), French DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 with English Subtitles


RELEASE DATE: August 14, 2012

Directed by Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne

Written by Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne

Producer: Hassen Daldoul, Luc Dardenne, Claude Waringo

Music by Jean-Marie Billy, Denis M. Punga

Cinematography by Alain Marcoen

Edited by Marie-Helene Dozo


Jeremie Renier as Igor

Olivier Gourmet as Roger

Assita Ouedraogo as Assita

Florian Delain as Riri

Hachemi Haddad as Nabil

Alain Holtgen as Le Postier

Genevieve Joly-Provost as Genevieve

Rasmane Ouedraogo as Amidou

La promesse is the breakthrough feature from Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne, who would go on to become a force in world filmmaking. The brothers brought the unerring eye for detail and the compassion for those on society’s lowest rungs developed in their earlier documentary work to this absorbing drama about a teenager (Jérémie Renier) gradually coming to understand the implications of his father’s making a living through the exploitation of undocumented workers. Filmed in the Dardennes’ industrial hometown of Seraing, Belgium, La promesse is a brilliantly economical and observant tale of a boy’s troubled moral awakening.

The Dardenne brothers, Jean-Pierre and Luc, have created a good number of award-winning films.

From the 2002 film “The Son” (winner of the “Prize of the Ecumenical Jury at the Cannes Film Festival), 2005 film “The Child” (winner of the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival), 2008 film “Lorna’s Silence” (winner of “Best Screenplay” at the Cannes Film Festival) and most recently with their 2011 film “The Kid with a Bike”, which won the Grand Prize of the Jury for “Best Film” at the Cannes Film Festival.

With films that are highly anticipated for their quality writing and direction, back in the 1980’s, the Belgian duo were known for their documentaries.  And with their 1987 film “Falsch”, the Dardenne Brothers had the opportunity to direct a major feature 1992 film, “Je pense a vous”.

And the film didn’t do well.

Suffice to say, the film would go against everything that the Dardenne Brothers enjoyed.  Having to be on a tight schedule preventing key reshoots, budgetary inconveniences and not shooting a scene in order.  The experience turned the Dardenne Brothers off and both discussed that if they do a film, they do things by their own terms, even if it means shooting a low-budget film.

So, in 1996, the Dardenne brothers worked on “La Promesse” (The Promise).  A film in which they had complete control over.  No need for expensive equipment, they will shot with a handheld camera.  No need for spending a lot of money on talent, they would work with unknown talent.  And no more having to shoot scenes in different order.

And with this film, it earned them a Cesar nomination for “Best Foreign Film” and winning the Brussels International Film Festival for “Best Belgian Film”.  So, when the Dardenne Brothers discuss their filmmaking, for films, “La Promesse” is their beginning and the way they have been doing their films ever since.  They call the shots and do what they feel they need to do, to make a film.  In other words, complete control over their films.

And now “La Promesse” will be released on Blu-ray and DVD courtesy of the Criterion Collection.

“La Promesse” revolves around Igor (as portrayed by Jeremie Renier), a young teenager who wants to be a mechanic and is an apprentice at a shop.  He loves working on go-carts with his friends but more often his life is disrupted thanks to his father Roger (as portrayed by Olivier Gourmet).

Roger makes his living renting out run down apartments to illegal immigrants and using them to work on other scams that he has going on, including fixing the run down apartment building.  Because his illegal operation requires a variety of work that makes his money, Igor is often used by his father to either collect money, working on fake ID’s and work permits and other activities.  And always disrupted from having any fun with his friends, including keeping his mechanic apprentice job.

But if there is one family among the illegal immigrants that Igor has a fascination with is a Black man named Amidou (as portrayed by Rasmane Ouedraogo) who is taking care of his wife Assita (as portrayed by Assita Ouedraogo) and baby.

One day, a surprise visit from the building inspectors takes Roger and Igor by surprise.  As Roger tries to keep the inspector busy in order to stall time, Igor runs and tells all undocumented immigrants to run away and not be caught.

But Amidou who is working on the scaffold, is in a hurry to escape but accidentally falls off the scaffold, following several stories to the ground.

As Igor goes to check on him, Amidou is in bad shape and asks Igor to make a promise to him and that his wife and child would be watched over.  Young Igor makes the promise.

Meanwhile, Igor then hides the body, while the inspector checks the building and they find no illegal activity.

After they leave, Igor goes to stabilize Amidou and tend to his wound.  And hopes his father will save his life by taking him to the hospital.  But instead, his father decides not to, to Igor’s surprise.

Instead his father takes Amidou’s body and buries him under many layers of concrete.

As days pass, Assita becomes concerned of why Amidou has not returned back home.  Roger comes up with an idea to tell his wife that Amidou has been in debt and probably ran away.  But Assita doesn’t believe him.  In fact, she feels that her husband is close nearby.

As Igor watches Assita through a blind hole through her wall, she finds out that she is in debt.  So, Igor hires someone in the building to pay Assita and tell her the money is from her husband.

But Roger finds out that his son has been helping her and in a rage, Roger beats his son and forbids him of going to see Assita ever again.

And for Igor, he begins to see what kind of man his father really is.  And seeing Assita in pain and waiting for her husband Amidou to come back and raising a baby alone, his conscience begins to get the best of him.


“La Promesse – The Criterion Collection #620” is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:66:1 aspect ratio).    It’s important for people to remember that this was a low-budget film and was filmed via handheld, so you are going to get shaky movements.  But this is a cleaner version than the previous DVD release.

The Criterion Collection really went all out in cleaning up the video from any imperfections.  I didn’t notice any scratches or dust.  In fact, I was pausing quite a bit because the film looks so clean.   Picture quality has a good amount of grain and for the most part, the film does look good but you do see some softness at times.   But by no means does that ruin one’s viewing of the film.  Colors look good and if anything, if you own the earlier DVD release, “La Promesse” on Blu-ray would be a major upgrade.  The clarity of this film in HD is impressive!

According to the Criterion Collection, the transfer was 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


“La Promesse – The Criterion Collection #620” is presented in French DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1.  Once again, The Dardenne brothers went back to the basics with this film. Its dialogue is clear and there is a segment where Igor and Roger are singing, which is also crystal clear.  But I notice no pops, hiss or any problems during my viewing of this film.

According to the Criterion Collection, 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.


“La Promesse – The Criterion Collection #620” comes with the following special features:

  • Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne – (1:00:25) Conversation between film critic Scott Foundas and filmmakers Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne shot in 2012 in Liege, Belgium.
  • Jeremie Renier and Olivier Gourmet – (18:33) 2012 interviews with Jeremie Renier (Igor) and Olivier Gourmet (Roger).
  • Trailer – (1:16) The original theatrical trailer for “La Promesse”.


“La Promesse – The Criterion Collection #620” comes with a 16-page booklet with the following essay “One Plus One” by author Kent Jones.

“La Promesse” is film by filmmakers that the cineaste can truly appreciate.

Not only is it a film that goes against traditional filmmaking but it’s a wise stand for the Dardenne brothers to denounce big film industry practices by creating a film, done their own way, their own style with no regrets.  And most importantly, they are filmmakers who stayed true to that practice.  And most importantly, there is a semblance of their style that is reminiscent of a hint of Italian Neorealism by capturing the lives of those economically challenged and not forcing one’s economic pain through acting but through visual means.

The Dardenne brothers have done documentaries on this before.  They know the troubles that people go through and they try to portray that in their films.

“La Promesse” is rather fascinating because it is a film that deals with a father and son who make their living by exploiting illegal immigrants. The son doesn’t know too much about how his father is towards the workers, he just learns and does everything his father tells him. And because Igor deals with these people who rely on them quite a bit, because he is younger, he does have compassion for them because they don’t have much money and are trying to survive.

But his life changes when he sees a man die in front of him.  A man who asks him to watch over his wife and child, which Igor promises the dying man, that he would do.  And this is the turning point of where he sees his father differently.  His father is more concerned about himself, that he wouldn’t rescue anyone.  In fact, he would go so far to pay people to make things worse on other tenants that live in the apartment building.   His father has no compassion and in some way, similar to the undocumented workers that he uses, in many ways, Roger uses his son Igor as well.

And we know this father and son relationship is quite odd.  We see Roger taking out his son to have some fun and be around women, his son smokes and pretty much has not been able to live his young life, as his father tends to use him to do these jobs for these undocumented workers quite frequently.

But it’s that conundrum of seeing a teenager, who saw a man die and his father trying to cover his death up by burying him under cement.  Igor can’t forget, even if he wanted to, because the dead man’s wife is always trying to look for him.  And while Roger tells her that he disappeared possibly because of debt, we see her using guts from a chicken to tell her where her husband is.  And inside, she feels that he is nearby.  And for Igor, the pain he sees his wife in, as she tries to find him and raise a baby is too much for boy to handle.

And we then see Igor starting to have compassion, the opposite of his father, who has little.  It’s money, business for him and it starts to eat away at his son.

“La Promesse” is a moral tale, or of a moral awakening.  This is a film that does not try to sugarcoat things, nor is it a film meant to have answers.  But it’s that documentary style that the Dardenne brothers are known for that leads “La Promesse” to its efficacy.  The outstanding performances by Jeremie Renier and Olivier Gourmet seems natural.

As for the Blu-ray release, for those who owned the older DVD release of “La Promesse” will be happy to know that this film looks very good on Blu-ray considering that this is a low-budget film.  There are some people who may not like the handheld camerawork but a low-budget and the Dardenne brothers willingness to get away from major costs by eliminating a lot of major equipment during a film shoot was important to them.  But still, the film looks and sounds very good on Blu-ray and is worth upgrading to.  And there are two special features with interviews plus a trailer and essay booklet included.

Overall, “La Promesse” is a film that showed the world that the Dardenne brothers have true potential but also earned the respect of cinema fans for their stand against what they don’t like about big-budget filmmaking and following rules that inhibit their own personal style.  So, they went about making their own film with a low budget, non-popular talent but making the film feel real to the audience.  It’s what they are excellent in doing for their films to this day!

A thought provoking, moralistic drama that introduced the world to the Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne and the “Dardenne Style” of filmmaking.  “La Promesse” is highly recommended!

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