Written and directed by Robin Pront (his debut film) and co-written by Jeroen Perceval, The Ardennes (D’Ardennen) is a gritty Belgian/Flemish drama about two brothers who are sucked into a sinkhole of criminality, an existence that inevitably becomes progressively worse.
An out-of-control sociopath, Kenneth spends time in prison for a botched heist (refusing to betray his accomplices) after which he is released and returns to his family. However, much has changed and a conflict ensues based on sibling loyalty and resentment.
The Ardennes is introduced with a dramatic scene of a man, Dave (Jeroen Perceval), struggling to escape drowning in a swimming pool after a burglary gone wrong, for which his brother Kenny (Kevin Janssens) is caught and sentenced to seven years in prison. Kenny’s girlfriend, co-conspirator in the crime, Sylvie (Veerle Baetens), abandons him for Dave, a fact that is undisclosed to Kenny. While he is incarcerated, the lovers attempt to escape criminality and live conventional lives, but when the prisoner is released three years early, the trouble begins.
What appears at first to be a family drama involving petty criminals soon becomes a picture of extreme brutality, as Kenny evolves from thief to compulsive murderer; while the storyline and characters are increasingly eccentric and interesting. Once the siblings are in the Ardennes we encounter an assortment of oddballs living on the edge of insanity, with deranged occurrences including a Felliniesque attack by a herd of ostriches, followed by a sequence of erratic events that derail all reason, accountability, and hope.
Dave and Sylvie aspire to a positive lifestyle as she attends recovery meetings, becomes pregnant and the two plan a future together. Yet their past misdeeds return to haunt them and Kenny’s violence is the destructive force that unravels their optimistic endeavours. The message that “crime does not pay” is an understatement for this piece, which illustrates rather that it turns people into monsters – growing and escalating like a disease until it destroys everything in its path. Once a person steps into that life, hope is obliterated.
The acting is particularly excellent in this film, especially Baetens’s intense and believable portrayal of Sylvie and Jan Bijvoet’s riveting characterisation of Kenny’s cell mate, the off-the-wall, amoral Stef. With superb direction and skillful, highly effective cinematography, including thematically precise close-ups, The Ardennes is an intriguing, suspenseful morality tale.
The Ardennes is released nationwide on 9th December 2016.
Watch the trailer for The Ardennes here: