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Olivier - meticulous, careful, even-handed - teaches carpentry at a vocational school in Liège. He's asked to take on Francis, 16, a new student. He declines the request then begins to watch, even spy on, the new lad. Olivier knows something. Later that day, he's visited by Magali, his ex-wife, who tells him that she's remarrying and is pregnant. Olivier seems to follow instinctive responses: "why today?" he demands of Magali; he continues to follow Francis; he changes his mind about enrolling the youth. What's the history between the two? After that becomes clear, what is it Olivier will do? Is this precise and measured carpenter in control of himself? Written by
The Son is one of the profoundest films that you will ever see, and yet, paradoxically, also one of the simplest. In this way, it resembles a biblical parable.
Adding to its simplicity is the fact that it is photographed entirely with a hand-held camera, so don't expect any breathtaking vistas of heartbreaking sunsets. In fact, for a considerable chunk of its running time we are offered little more to look at than the back of a man's head; but after we have been doing this for a while, something extraordinary begins to happen: we find that we can see directly into his soul.
The man is a carpenter named Olivier (played by the wonderful Belgian actor Olivier Gourmet). He isn't pretty to look at, he isn't particularly heroic, he has little sense of humour and his manner is frequently terse, but just watch what he does in the quiet moments! Watch how he tells you everything you need to know with just his body language and his eyes.
In one of the film's many quiet moments, his ex-wife studies him with tangible tenderness, and we can't help but be moved by their fragile intimacy. But she is ultimately unable to empathize with him. Can you? Will you? For my own part, I found Olivier to be the most inspirational character in all of cinema, and I wish - oh, how I wish! - that I could be just like him.
Olivier's story, which is essentially about loneliness and forgiveness, develops s-l-o-w-l-y in order to help us better make sense of the carpenter and his world. The dialogue is as banal and as functional as it would be in everyday life, and, to add to the sense of reality, the soundtrack contains no music at all, so the dramatic moments aren't heightened or emphasized with soaring strings or a hard rock beat. We are asked merely to observe, to listen and learn, and we end up thinking for ourselves in the process.
How profound is The Son really? Well, long after the end credits have rolled, you will probably find yourself haunted by the film and asking serious questions of yourself. You might also come to discover that the story is actually about three sons and not one, but that will all depend upon how you view the universe.
The Son is a transcendental experience and one of my very favourite films. This is one for the ages and one from the heart.
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