Criterion Review: La Promesse

LA PROMESSE de Jean Pierre et Luc DARDENNE

Throughout 2013, and perhaps beyond, Josh and I are challenging ourselves to view and review films that are part of the world-renowned Criterion Collection.  You can see the post outlining the project here.   This is our first official review post.  I apologize that we were not as prompt with our review as I would have liked to have been.  To amend my prior Criterion Challenge rules, we will be watching one movie every two weeks (but continuing to post on Mondays).  Unfortunately, the one movie a week pace seems to be a bit too much for our busy lives.

Moving on to the reason you’re here, the review:


Erin’s Take: 3-5-stars

By the end of the movie, I was surprised at how much I had enjoyed watching it.  The movie starts on a quite unsettling note, as you watch a young boy steal an old lady’s wallet.  Next you watch the same young boy help his father smuggle illegal immigrants into their country, Belgium, and collect their life savings as payment.  However, the movie proves to be full of scenes that encompass innocent and tender moments.  It is the juxtaposition of these against the more troubling undertone of the movie that keep your full attention.  Perhaps most present in my mind is a scene in the movie where the young lead, Igor, is riding in a go-kart with his friends after they spend time working on it together and completing it.  That childhood joy and innocence sharply contrasts with the adult role that his father forces him to fulfill, which is why I believe the movie works.  If there weren’t glimpses into Igor’s pure character, his unlikely friendship with the wife of an illegal who dies under tragic circumstances would not have felt believable.  Igor is an easy character to root for as he becomes more aware about the negative impact his father’s dealings have on the lives of innocent people.

Perhaps the only part of the movie I didn’t enjoy was the very end.  The wife of the dead immigrant finally learns the circumstances surrounding her husband’s death (an accident, but one covered up by Igor an his father).  In that scene, she was about to leave Belgium and travel to Italy, where a cousin of hers lived.  Upon hearing the news, she decides to stay in Belgium.  You see her leaving the train station and the movie ends.  Usually, I’m OK with endings where there is not much explanation and you don’t exactly know what is going to happen to the character in the future.  A classic example of this (which Josh and I have hotly debated) is the final scene of Lost in Translation.  It never bothered me that you didn’t know what Bill Murray whispered in Scar Jo’s ear.  It didn’t bother me that you just had to assume he went back to his loveless marriage and she went to hers.  Perhaps this is because they would always have those memories of their intense friendship while in Tokyo – that deeper human connection both of them were looking for.  Unfortunately, in La Promesse, Igor and the widow, Assita, do not have an experience together that makes the rest OK.  Their brief friendship is filled with her pain while searching for her husband, and Igor’s guilt as he lies to hide the truth  He makes it right in the end, but nothing is actually alright.  Does this make sense?  Again, I’m the amateur of these movie review blogs.  Perhaps Josh will be more coherent!

In all, I would absolutely recommend this movie.  It’s beautifully shot, the acting is great, and it’s easy to get caught up in the emotion of the circumstances surrounding these tragic characters.

Josh’s Take: 3-5-stars

I actually enjoyed this film a lot.  It’s nice to watch a movie that has such a tight and accurate focus on character and character development.  The directors really manage to gather all of the viewer’s attention by shooting almost the whole movie without the use of wide or establishing shots.  Almost every scene is shot medium or close up allowing for no excess visually and cementing the narrative, in a visual sense, firmly in the lives of the main characters.  Another technical element that I noticed and enjoyed was the lack of reliance on fast cutting and editing tricks.  To often now major films choose to be so cutty and fast paced, more like extended music videos than films.  By using a ton of long takes and shots with no edits or inserts again the editors leave the focus on character, and more specifically the excellent performance of the lead actor, the boy playing Igor.  By allowing the moments of the film to breathe properly without visual clutter the viewer is truly treated to a fully immersive experience.

I would definitely recommend this film to anyone with an honest appreciation of film as an art form.  It is a highly focused and well executed work of cinema that manges to be both challenging and enjoyable.


If you’ve also watched La Promesse, we’d love to hear your thoughts.  Please post in the comments!  Make sure to come back in two weeks for a review of Josh’s pick:

Sword of Doom

Ryunosuke is a sociopathic samurai without compassion or scruples. When he is scheduled for an exhibition match at his fencing school, the wife of his opponent begs Ryunosuke to throw the match, offering her own virtue in trade. Ryunosuke accepts her offer, but kills her husband in the match. Over time, Ryunosuke is pursued by the brother of the man he killed. The brother trains with the master fencer Shimada. In the meantime, however, Ryunosuke earns the enmity of the band of assassins he runs with, and it becomes a question of who shall face him in final conflict.

Wishing you all a lovely start to your week! xo

2013: Year of the Criterion Challenge

Happy New Year to all of you!  I am sending my best wishes to my readers for a happy and healthy 2013!

Part of my goal for this year is to spend more time with this blog.  It has definitely been a transition period these past 9 months adjusting to my full time job after a lifetime of being a student and having a student’s schedule. Since my job has taken most of the time I used to have to cook or craft, I haven’t been able to create a lot in the way of content this past year.

But, I believe I’ve found a way to offer something new and original in the coming year to my readers while simultaneously creating more quality time with my husband and expanding my own horizons – what I am dubbing “The Criterion Collection Challenge.”

A some of you know, my husband is a film buff.  I’m not even on the same planet as him when it comes to knowledge of all things movies.  He spent four years of college discussing films in his seminars while I studied for the LSATS.  He works in TV, and I think Mean Girls is one of the best movies ever.

As part of my recent film education, Josh has told me a lot about The Criterion Collection, a company that distributes only movies which it feels are “important classic and contemporary films.” Each year, only a few films are selected to become part of the collection, but they can be films from any era, any country, and of any subject matter.  To see a complete list of the movies, visit Wikipedia.

Lucky for us, our Hulu Plus subscription (purchased for my Downton Abbey addiction) includes access to all Criterion Collection Movies.  You see where this is going.

Each week, Josh and I will be having a private screening (I’m told that’s industry speak for watching a movie) of one Criterion film.  Josh and I will also be taking turns picking, which guarantees a broad range of content from Japanese horror flicks to foreign romances.  After each screening, we’ll both write a little bit on our thoughts, which will save all of you from what will surely be my pedestrian reviews and offer a bit of intelligent insight to the discussion.

I promise promise promise this will not turn into a Criterion-only blog, and I will try to keep up the cooking/baking, crafting, design, and lifestyle element of this blog for my loyal readers. However, I really feel this will help to bring me the motivation and purpose I seem to be lacking these days, and give me a new way to connect to all of you.

I’ll be announcing the movie each week at the beginning of the week, in case any of you out there would like to also watch the movie during the week and leave comments on our review posts.  I will try to work on a Monday to Monday schedule, so from here on out each Monday I will post our review and announce the movie for the following week. Naturally, as this is my blog, I get first pick. For this week’s film we will be viewing:

La Promesse

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.

Again, wishing you all a blessed new year! xo

Monday Moment of Zen

I had a long day and was just a teensy bit cranky when I got home from work. But then I saw this video, and I think I can actually go to bed happy now! (Cute animal videos on youtube seem to be my Achilles heel.) I give you, your Monday moment of zen…

Hope your week is off to a great start! And if it wasn’t, I hope it seems a little better now. xo

Diva Dimona

Yesterday, Dimona was shot for a TV commercial!  Although Josh has warned me that some people in the industry get “nervous” if you discuss a commercial before it’s actually finished and aired, I can tell you that it’s for a phone company, and will be airing sometime in March on USA.  I’ll be sure to give you the details as soon as I get the green light!

I had my own little taste of stardom yesterday during the shoot and we had so much fun on the set!  The commercial was shooting in a loft space in midtown Manhattan and one floor was devoted entirely to shooting the commercial while the other floor was set up with food, hair and makeup, wardrobe, and other coordinators from the production company.  The basic gist of the commercial was a young couple with two children, living in Switzerland with a lot of pets!

I was a little apprehensive before we got there.  Dimona is still a puppy, and I certainly did not drag her around to auditions.  Since Josh works in the business, Dimona was included in this commercial merely as a favor to his colleagues, who were in need of a dog like her for this particular script.  Knowing that there were going to be A LOT of new people for Dimona to meet, children running around, Josh and I were going to have to leave her with complete strangers, AND there would be other animals present nearly had me grabbing for a Klonapin before leaving the house.

Dimona on set with her "family"!

However, all my anxiety was totally unnecessary! I was a PROUD dog mommy because Dimona handled the entire day like a professional pooch.  She smiled, wagged, her tail, and gave kisses to everyone that came over to meet her.  Although looking a little nervous when she was led away from us, she laid down, sat, and performed all her commands for the camera perfectly.  She was quiet, did not bark once, and was friendly to the other dog there.  The only thing she didn’t really love were the Macaw birds, from which she hid behind me trembling. Total wussy!

These guys had Dimona running scared!

The entire experience was very rewarding.  Not to sound too preachy, but I’m always happy when a “pit bull” gets a chance to prove itself as the sweet, gentle, docile, and good-tempered family dog they deserve to be portrayed as in the media.

Would I ever volunteer Dimona for another advertisement? I think our Hollywood days are done before they start.  The whole experience was quite exhausting and the entire time I found myself looking at the mothers of the two young boys who were acting in the commercial and wondering how any stage mom does this day after day. The whole experience only lasted 4-5 hours but Dimona and I were dead tired by the time all was said and done.

I know my little Dimona is a star, whether the rest of the world does or not 🙂

On an unrelated note – I made a few minor changes to the blog, a facelift if you will. Let me know what you think of the new color scheme/fonts/ layout, etc. I obviously couldn’t live without a paisley print background! Have a lovely day everyone! xo

Weekly Recap: Welcome February!

 Artwork by Amy Sol: We Found Ourselves Being Dreamt

Happy Saturday everyone!  I did a weekend web recap a couple weeks ago and it seemed like everyone liked it (lots of the links were clicked) so I thought I’d do another.  Maybe this will end up being a weekly or bi-weekly feature!

I hope you’re all enjoying your weekend, and have a fun Superbowl Sunday tomorrow! I have some fun new makeover and  DIY projects coming up next week that I can’t wait to share with you all. xo