Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

The Son

(Le Fils, Belgium, 2002)

One of the most frustrating movies I’ve ever not finished. We rented it on the strength of the raves on the box. Eight major critics put it on their Top 10 of 2002 lists. And we found it to be virtually unwatchable. For one thing, it’s all in close-up, with a hand-held camera. Every shot! I am so glad we didn’t see this in the theater, it would have given me whiplash as we followed a man up and down stairs, peered over his shoulder at not much, ran along beside him, looked up his nostrils and into his ears. It concerns a shop teacher in a school for juveniles on parole (I had to read a review to know that), who gets very upset when a new student arrives.


After a long, long, long time we learn that this boy killed the teacher’s son. We stopped before we learned much more, but trying to figure out why everybody loved the movie so much I trolled a few reviews and found out the boy stole a car when he was 11, and the son was in it and started to cry, and the boy panicked and strangled him. Now he’s out, and the father is teaching him carpentry. If we had stuck with it, I learned, we would have been treated to a truly amazing ending. Roger Ebert said this: “You expect, because you have been trained by formula films, an accident or an act of violence. What you could not expect is the breathtaking spiritual beauty of the ending of the film, which is nevertheless no less banal than everything that has gone before.” I’m sorry … no, fuck that, I’m not sorry, banal is the key word here. Everything about this film is so banal and frustrating in every way, including stylistically, that I simply didn’t have the stamina to make it to the end. Maybe that’s my loss. I’ll never know. [Now I’m wishing we’d skipped ahead and watched the ending. We could have done that. It’s not cheating, really.]

10/18/04: We rented it again. We FFed through the parts we’d seen before. I found I’d already forgotten the few details we’d learned, but it was just as stiflingly dull as I remembered it. It’s a good story, I’ll give you that, but how a story is told is incredibly important, both in writing and in film. And the technique used here is just too claustrophobic. I don’t want to look over peoples’ shoulders, I don’t want to follow them up and down stairs with a shaky camera. And if I want to see close-ups of zits, nose hairs, and earwax … well, I can’t imagine why I’d want to see any of those things, and I can’t imagine why anyone would want to see this film.