La promesse (1996)
d. Luc Dardenne and Jean-Pierre Dardenne
Criterion Collection #620
The first feature film of the Freres Dardenne, La promesse is a self assured debut about the experiences son of an alien smuggler in the post-industrial landscape of Belgium. Igor is a good looking young kid, in noted contrast to his bespectacled, moderately over weight father, who physically resembles Donal Logue's freaky cab driver from the MTV promos of the 1990s.
The Dardennes came from a documentary background, and their narrative style is decidedly in media res, with no exposition or supplementary characters who provide expository type dialogue. Instead the viewer is simply dropped into the soup. Thirty minutes in it is unclear if a plot is even in the offing, and then an African immigrant dies accidentally at a house where the boys father is having the illegal immigrants work, and Igor is left to cope with a very unknowing, recently arrived widow.
The relationship between Igor and Assita (the widow) occupies the rest of the film, as Igor comes to feel a moral responsibility for her well being. In terms of films from the same area, it is hard not to think both of Agnes Varda's Vagabond as a similar in media res depiction of the underbelly of Francophone life. In terms of the landscape, The Vanishing comes to mind: simply because it is set in the same general region. For those looking for an American equivalent is the work of Gus Van Sant, and further back, the short fiction of Raymond Carver.
While La promesse isn't exactly fun, it's not boring either, and worth the hour and a half time investment.