In their first film since the Palme d'Or winning 'Rosetta', brothers Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne present a subtle and disquieting study of a man whose life has been devastated by tragedy. Olivier Gourmet won the Best Actor Award at Cannes for his masterfully understated portrayal of a carpenter who teaches teenagers at a rehabilitation school. He is disturbed by the arrival of a new student, Francis (Morgan Marinne), and he struggles to maintain a professional distance in the boy's presence. An ambiguous relationship develops between the two until the eventual revelation of a terrible secret from the past that binds them together. Utilising their trademark pared-down visual aesthetic to great effect, the Dardennes have crafted a riveting, strikingly powerful film of profound emotional and moral complexity.
The tension throughout the film is palpable but there is no histrionic acting and no musical score to telegraph what you should feel. The story is strong and is revealed bit by bit, adding to the rising tension.
The film is largely shot with hand-held cameras following the main character, Olivier played by Olivier Gourmet. The world is seen not from the point of view of Olivier but us as stalker looking over his shoulder and observing every move and facial tic. This gives the film an air of intimacy verging on voyeurism. Most of the film is shot in this way so that, at times, it becomes rather claustrophobic and one longs for wider shots to put the world of Olivier in perspective.
Olivier Gourmet won the 2002 best actor award at Cannes and deservedly so. It is a performance of slow burning intensity, always on the verge of boiling over but the lid is firmly on.