THE ARDENNES, drama, not rated, in Dutch and French with subtitles, The Screen,
By the time the ostriches come stampeding through the dark, you’re either won over or you’re not by this Coen brothers-inflected Belgian film noir that starts off as a fairly conventional brotherly crime drama, and escalates in its third act to murder, dismemberment, a drag queen, cocaine pancakes, and yes, ostriches.
The movie starts underwater, and since there’s no obvious reason for this, it must mean something. A body hurtles in from above. No, it’s not a dead body. It’s Dave ( Jeroen Perceval, who co-wrote the screenplay with director Robin Pront), who has leapt into a swimming pool from a balcony of a house that he and his brother Kenny (Kevin Janssens) have been burgling. He climbs out, gasping for breath through the stocking over his face that reminds you of waterboarding, and beats it to the getaway car where Sylvie (Veerle Baetens), Kenny’s girlfriend, is at the wheel. “Drive!” he yells.
Kenny has been caught, and is sentenced to seven years hard time, loyally refusing to rat out his accomplices. They’re not quite so loyal. By the time Kenny gets paroled at Christmastime after serving four years in the slammer, Sylvie and Dave are an item, and she’s pregnant. How to tell Kenny? He does have a violent side.
But it’s a family reunion, with their formidable mother (Viviane de Muynck) presiding, slapping her sons upside the head, and wondering where she went wrong in raising them. Dave and Sylvie have both kicked the drugs and alcohol that had fueled their life of crime. They’re clean and sober, and as Sylvie says, “I just want to be dull.” That is not on Kenny’s agenda. He wants things the way they were, and can’t understand why Sylvie stopped visiting him in prison and has turned so cold. She explains it thus: “Because every time I saw your face, I thought of all the bad decisions I’ve made in my life.”
Things have not been going well, but when Kenny turns up with a body bag in the trunk of his car and says he’s killed a man, they take a turn for the worse. Dave feels he has no choice but to help his brother get rid of the body, so they head for the Ardennes forest, where they spent childhood summers, and where Stef ( Jan Bijvoet), Kenny’s scrawny prison bunkmate, has a junkyard, a drag queen lover, and an impressive array of saws and cleavers, and will know what to do.
Pront doesn’t discover much new ground for the genre, though he tries hard, but he does a nice job with the conventions he’s working with. He sifts in recurring motifs, like dogs as agents of exposing secrets, and the strands of inevitability that link our childhood to what we become.
And there will be ostriches. — Jonathan Richards