Le Fils (The Son)
"The Son" is complete, self-contained and final. All the critic can bring to it is his admiration. It needs no insight or explanation. It sees everything and explains all. It is as assured and flawless a telling of sadness and joy as I have ever seen.
Granted, the movie is in French (with English subtitles)- but that does not automatically make it a masterpiece. On the other hand, it is actually a Belgian film, so you can save the frog jokes.
In fairness, it has some depth of emotion, but there is SO little going on here as to bore the crap out of a normal person. I don't think this would indicate that you have an unnaturally short attention span, though. It's just that this is SOOOOOO frickin' SLOOOOOW.
SPOILER ALERT: I'ma tell pretty much the whole story, partly because there's so little of it that you can hardly tell any of it without spilling it all.
After following this carpentry teacher [uh, Jesus symbol alert] at a juvenile rehab center around for awhile, watching him reject and then embrace this 16 year old, we figure out why he's being so squirrelly. This boy killed his young son during a botched robbery five years ago. Neither the boy nor the authorities realize the connection. What will Olivier the carpenter do?
That's pretty much it. There are no big soul searching conversations; Olivier is real isolated, with just enough input from the now ex-wife to show some hint of the freaked out reaction a normal person would have had.
About 90% of the film consists of hand-held camera shots following Olivier around as he goes about his routine schedule, and follows the kid around, obviously trying to think what to do.
Except that he does minimal to let us see just what he's thinking as he wrestles with grief or forgiveness or whatever he's thinking. He's not talking to anyone, not even himself.
I suspect that this is just exactly what Ebert responded to. Olivier is like a giant Rorshach, a blank face into which the viewer can write their own Deep Thoughts on big topics. Just look into his everyman face and project whatever you think would be profound thoughts.
Worse yet, you have to do a lot of this looking at the back of the guy's neck half the damned time, as we're looking over his shoulder to see things from his perspective. This back of the neck thing gets pushed hard enough that nearly all reviews note it. I'll just say that I'm WAY more familiar now with the contours of the backside of Olivier Gourmet's ear than I am with my own. On the big screen like I saw it, this can definitely be a bit unsightly.
I don't mean to be really down on the movie. It's better than I'm probably making it sound. It really is worth watching. It is quiet, well meaning, and about something. The basic situation really has a lot of drama, or at least a lot of dramatic potential. They just don't really do much with it.
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