Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne are some of world cinema’s most celebrated artists, having won the Palme D’or at Cannes twice (a very rare honor) and achieving international acclaim with every successive release.
"La Promesse" was their first film, one underappreciated in light of their later, highly lauded, oeuvre. Now, thanks to Criterion’s stunning Blu-ray rerelease, the film that catapulted them onto the world cinema stage (and started earning them monikers like "the modern answer to Robert Bresson"), is back and ripe for appreciation from newfound fans.
An engrossing fable about the small signs of bliss and transcendence that shine through dark places of the world, it is in many ways the template for every film they made thereafter .
Dardenne regular Jeremie Renier (to watch their films is to watch him grow up) stars as Igor, who works alongside his father Roger running a racket to scam money off desperate and illegal immigrants. When one of their tenants falls to his death as a result of their scams, Igor promises the dying man to take care of his wife, Assita, and her child.
Deceptively, the film isn’t about whether he keeps the promise. It’s about what he loses in the process of doing so.
Criterion has gone light with the extras on this one, including only interviews with the cast and crew as opposed to commentaries, documentaries, or anything too substantial. Still, the impeccable video transfer -- which some may even see as too clean, since it reveals dust and imperfections from the camera lens -- is well worth the upgrade. The promise here isn’t just the one in the film; it’s the one the Dardenne’s display so vividly behind the camera. They are incredible filmmakers, and this is an incredible film.