Belgian director Robin Pront’s assured first feature, “The Ardennes,” is thrillingly nasty, dark (both its tone and gorgeous imagery), and darkly funny, a story of a serious, character-defining lack of impulse control, and the limits of brotherly love.
Kenny (Kevin Janssens), malevolently handsome, who had been nabbed and jailed for a crime he and his brother, Dave (Jeroen Perceval), had ineptly committed, is being released. But his four years of prison time, rooming with a sensitive bonsai tree aficionado, Stef (Jan Bijvoet), with surgical skills, haven’t meant rehabilitation and he’s eager to get back to business and Sylvie (Veerle Baetens), his girlfriend.
But things on the outside have changed. Dave, three years sober, now glances at his moral compass. Sylvie, who struggled to get clean, works for the brothers’ childhood friend, Khalid, at his nightclub. They’re making a life together (Sylvie to Dave: “I just want to be dull”), and making a family. Unsure how to tell Kenny, who’s still beyond bad boy, the pair is desperate to minimize the fallout from his inevitable explosion.
After a disastrous attempt at working with Dave at his job at a carwash, and a fight with Khalid at his club for supposedly flirting with Sylvie, Kenny borrows Dave’s car. He returns, agitated, saying he has Khalid’s body wrapped in tarp, adding, “He had his hand on her shoulder,” which lead to a confrontation. “Not my fault he fell down.”
And they’re off from Antwerp to the Ardennes forest where, Kenny says, “Stef will make (Khalid) disappear.” The brothers locate Stef and as the cellmates are enjoying their reunion, Gerard, the local gamekeeper, arrives to warn of 16 aggressive ostriches, escapees from the local meat packing plant.
But the violence has not been left behind and as the bodies pile up, Dave and Kenny ferociously fight each other (and the huge, angry ostriches) in the torrential nighttime rain and mud. As the cops arrive and intervene, Pront’s last spectacular shot, god’s eye view, surveys the waste.
“The Ardennes” will open on Friday, January 6 at the Village East Cinema and in Los Angeles on Friday, January 13. A release to selected cities will follow.