THE ARDENNES, drama, not rated, in Dutch and French with sub­ti­tles, The Screen,

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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

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