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La Promesse (1996)

La promesse (original title)
Not Rated | | Drama | 16 May 1997 (USA)
Roger uses his son Igor to ruthlessly traffic and exploit illegal aliens. When one of the aliens is killed, Igor is guilt-ridden and wants to care for the dead man's family against his father's orders.

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16 wins & 5 nominations. See more awards »
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Credited cast:
Assita Ouedraogo ...
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Jean-Michel Balthazar
Frédéric Bodson ...
The garage boss
Katarzyna Chrzanowska
Florian Delain ...
Hachemi Haddad ...
Alain Holtgen ...
Le postier
Geneviève Joly-Provost ...
Sophia Leboutte
Rasmané Ouédraogo ...
Amidou (as Rasmane Ouedraogo)
Norbert Rutili


Igor--a 15-year-old apprentice mechanic--spends his off hours at the beck and call of his father. Igor's father, Roger, is a low-life involved with smuggling illegal immigrants into Belgium, and acts as their slumlord, housing them in barely livable conditions, and paying them menial wages to work construction on his building (among other scams). When the building inspector pays a surprise visit and Amidou falls off a scaffold in his hurry to hide, things start to unravel, particularly when Igor makes a promise to the injured Amidou that ultimately exposes the different values of Igor and Roger, and of Amidou's wife, Assita. Written by Jon Reeves <jreeves@imdb.com>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis




Not Rated | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:




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Release Date:

16 May 1997 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

La Promesse  »

Filming Locations:


Box Office

Opening Weekend:

$21,220 (USA) (16 May 1997)


$454,720 (USA) (25 July 1997)

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs

Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.66 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


An hour and 4 minutes into the film (NTSC) when Assita asks Igor to pour some water onto her hair - the sound of water hitting the ground comes before the water is actually seen hitting the ground. See more »

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User Reviews

gritty alternative to Hollywood pap
24 July 2001 | by (Brussels, Belgium) – See all my reviews

At the turn of the 20th century, film pioneers in the United States were shooting movies about the fantastic, pushing the envelope of special effects and melodrama, while European film makers were trying to capture the the essence of "real life." It's amazing how little has changed in a hundred years.

"La Promesse," a Belgian film by the Dardenne brothers, offers so little of the American drama-enhancers that at first it seems boringly mundane. But an interesting morality-play soon puts the viewer's mind to work. What is the main character, Igor, a street-wise kid supposed to do when his father, who has taught him every trick in the book, hides the accidental death of an illegal immigrant worker? Igor promises the worker's wife that he will look after her and her baby while her husband has gone "missing" but is unable to tell her the horrible truth.

Igor contemplates what to do, oftentimes while driving around a ghastly post-industrial landscape on his rickety moped. No music, just moped whining. In typical Dardenne style, there is a brief touching and funny scene in all of this misery. Igor is filmed actually having fun with his pals in a pitifully dilapidated, home-made go-cart -like all kids should- rather than contemplating such weighty issues. The effect is unforgettable.

Igor finally decides to make a break with his father and in a common but effective convention -- he uses the survival tactics that his father taught him (such as driving their van) against him, leaving the fat-ish father to go after his kid while squeezing onto his kid's moped. Truly a pathetic sight.

Igor, his hand played with his father, is now forced to confront the issue with the worker's widow and her baby which makes for a powerful conclusion. Sans music, of course.

Without entirely giving up the movie, the title, "La Promesse" actually has two meanings it seems. The first is the promise to the woman and her baby but the directors evidently are also rooting for "the promise" of a younger (post-baby boomer) generation to act altruistically. I'm reminded of the line in a John Cougar Mellencamp (baby-boomer) song, "Check it Out," when he sings wistfully, "Future generations...maybe they'll have a better understanding, Hopefully have a better understanding..."

In a sad coda, I saw "La Promesse" in Washington DC's last independent theater just days before it closed down, thus losing it's battle with the evil theater-chain empires. Movies like "La Promesse" are the kinds of films that allow one to restore the promise that there can still be thoughtful and unforgettable cinema out there in the land of formulaic Hollywood pap. These films need to be made and offered in our theaters and video stores...and taught in our film schools. They do more than entertain. They offer a window on life. If they can't survive in the "movie market," then (oh-no, the s-word) subsidize them and use them as teaching instruments to our students. Maybe future generations will revive the art -- and learn something in the process.

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