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SPECIFICATIONS
  • 1.66:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
  • French DTS-HD 5.1 Surround
  • English subtitles
  • 1 Disc
FEATURES
  • Conversation between film critic Scott Foundas and filmmakers Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne
  • New interviews with actors Jérémie Renier and Olivier Gourmet
  • Trailer

La promesse

Blu-ray
Reviewed by: Chris Galloway

Directed By: Luc Dardenne, Jean-Pierre Dardenne
Starring: , Olivier Gourmet, ,
1996 | 94 Minutes | Licensor: Films du Fleuve

Release Information
Blu-ray | MSRP: $39.95 | Series: The Criterion Collection | Edition: #620
RLJ Entertainment

Release Date: August 14, 2012
Review Date: August 12, 2012

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SYNOPSIS

This is the breakthrough feature from Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne, who would go on to become a force in world filmmaking. The brothers brought the unerring eye for detail and the compassion for those on society's lowest rungs developed in their earlier documentary work to this absorbing drama about a teenager (Jérémie Renier) gradually coming to understand the implications of his father's making a living off of illegal alien workers. Filmed in the Dardennes' industrial hometown of Seraing, Belgium, La promesse is a brilliantly economical and observant tale of a boy's troubled moral awakening.

Discuss the film and Blu-ray here   


PICTURE

Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne’s second first film, La promesse makes its Blu-ray debut from Criterion. It is presented with a new 1080p/24hz high-definition transfer in its original aspect ratio of 1.66:1 on a dual-layer disc.

It’s a problematic presentation and it’s especially frustrating because it could have been great and could have been better than Criterion’s companion Blu-ray of the Dardenne’s Rosetta. The transfer itself is mostly fine, delivering a sharp representation that is fairly film-like, with some beautiful colours despite a rather dull look to the film. It’s during some of the grainier moments of the film where the transfer seems to fumble, mishandling the film’s grain structure and causing what looks to be closer to compression noise. Quick movements during these sequences also cause what looks like pixilation and it’s incredibly distracting. It’s possible the cause of this is the application of sharpening to the transfer. Blacks can also be a bit heavy and drown out details, making for some murky night sequences.

According to the notes the transfer was ultimately sourced from a 35mm blowup interpositive, and in general the source looks to be in great shape but there is a fairly surprising amount of damage that remains. Throughout the entirety of the film the bottom right corner shows some noticeable wear and tear and another faint little tear that hovers lower in the frame off-center caused me to fear for a short time that some pixels in my television had died out. Tram lines also appear to the right of the screen and it looks like the print is also worn at the edges, showing some fading. The rest of the frame looks fine, but ultimately these imperfections call attention to themselves just because of the fact the rest of the frame is so clean.

Though I spent a lot of time describing the print issues they didn’t bother me all that much. They were noticeable and hard to ignore but I’m guessing this could be the best available source and all that could be done was done. The digital transfer itself is a little more disappointing, though, and this is the aspect that frustrated me most. It looks great throughout most of the film but has sudden, surprising moments where it can look to be a noisy mess.

6/10

All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.

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AUDIO

The film was originally released with a 2.0 surround track, according to the notes, but Criterion has upgraded it to 5.1 for this DTS-HD MA surround track. I’m sort of at a loss as to why since the film doesn’t call for one. Everything remains in the front speakers and honestly it sounds more like a mono track than anything else. The only moment I recall where the surrounds kick in is during a scene that takes place in a karaoke bar but otherwise, again, the track is focused to the fronts.

None of that should be seen as a real knock against the presentation, though, I just questioned the upgrade where it really wasn’t necessary. Past all of that it still sounds great, delivering a sharp presentation with clear dialogue and sharp sound effects. Despite the low budget nature and the fact the film sticks to the front speakers it does have a surprising amount of power behind it, and does make some minor yet effective use of bass, which is maybe where the upgrade was seen as beneficial. So while no one should expect to be even close to blown away by the 5.1 presentation, it still sounds to be an accurate representation of the film’s audio.

7/10

SUPPLEMENTS

It looks like we get next to nothing in the way of supplements and yes, they barely total 80-minutes, but they’re surprisingly substantial.

First is a one-hour interview with directors Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne, conducted by film critic Scott Foundas. Foundas speaks in English while the Dardenne’s speak in French (accompanied by English subtitles of course.) This is a wonderfully fascinating discussion with the filmmakers who talk a lot about their early documentaries and first narrative features, specifically Je pense à vous, which they consider an absolute failure primarily because they didn’t know “where to place the camera.” La promesse was like a Mulligan/do-over for them, where they could apply what would eventually become the “Dardenne style” as they call it. For this reason they consider it their real first narrative film. From here they get into the technical aspects, their form of narrative, cover the inspirations for the film, talk about the actors, and of course talk about the themes found in the film and in their other works. It’s a lengthy piece but really quite fascinating. And amazingly Criterion was still able to get more out of them for an interview found on Criterion’s Rosetta release. A great addition.

Following this is a shorter 18-minute interview featuring actors Jérémie Renier and Olivier Gourmet. The two talk about being cast in this film and their characters, as well as working with the Dardennes on this film and others, offering a nice little look at the working relationship between the three (they would all work together again on The Child, Lorna’s Silence, and their recent The Kid With a Bike.) Obviously not as lengthy as the Dardenne interview, but no less valuable.

The disc then closes with the film’s original theatrical trailer.

The booklet then includes a great essay by Kent Jones about the film and the Dardennes’ work before, more or less encapsulating what the Dardennes talked about in their interview.

Jones’ essay offers a little bit of an analytical slant, though not a deep one and that is really the only thing missing from the supplements, and something that can feel to be getting more scarce in Criterion’s supplements. But the supplements we do get, though shorter than the film’s running time, feel very thorough and cover the making of the film, its themes, and intentions rather well. Fairly satisfying in the end.

7/10

CLOSING

Supplements do look slim but are satisfying, and the audio represents the film fine enough. The video is where the release disappoints, as it suffers from a few odd artifacts, possibly the victim of some over sharpening. It comes with a mild recommendation.


View packaging for this Blu-ray

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