‘La Promesse’ contemplates morality

Stephanie Melchiore

Set in the outskirts of Belgium, the film “La Promesse” centers on a teenager coming to grips with moral choices and their consequences.

Igor works as a construction apprentice for his father, Roger, a landlord who employs and houses illegal immigrants from all over the world.

In an attempt to keep the dilapidated and illegal working and living conditions under wraps from visiting safety inspectors, Igor rushes to hide the immigrants, and one worker is critically injured.

The man’s dying plea to Igor is to look after his wife and child. At first Igor reluctantly helps his father keep the man’s death a secret, and the remainder of the film displays the turmoil Igor experiences due to loyalty to his father, his own guilty conscience and the promise he made to care for the man’s family.

While “La Promesse” has been deemed a “coming of age” story, one critic more aptly characterized it as a “coming of conscience” film instead.

Igor has grown up learning from his unscrupulous father that “survival of the fittest” means lying, cheating and stealing to get ahead in life.

Capturing the story with hand-held cameras provides a sense of rawness and realism that strikes a nerve with viewers across a socio-cultural context.

It challenges us to reflect on our own survival tactics and the ways in which we may contribute to the injustices experienced by others.

Written, directed and produced by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne – brothers who have 20 years of experience creating sociopolitical documentaries in their native country – “La Promesse” leaves viewers wondering whether or not it is based on true events.

Earning more than 20 awards following its 1996 release, the film is most noted for winning the prize for Best Foreign Language Film of 1997 by America’s National Society of Film Critics.

“La Promesse” will be shown in its native language – French – with English subtitles four times as part of the Spring 2008 Cultural Film & Lecture Series in the Connelly Cinema: Saturday at 7 p.m., Sunday at 3:30 and 7 p.m. and Monday at 7 p.m.

Admission is free for students with ID and $5 for all others.

Guest speaker Gustavo Benavides will be present at the Monday viewing period to introduce the film and then to lead a discussion afterward.

For more information, contact the communication department at 9-4750 on weekdays between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., or consult the CFS Web page, www.culturalfilms.villanova.edu.