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The Son

I've never understood why movie directors think that handheld, in-your-face camerawork means a greater dramatic intimacy. Often, it has the opposite effect: the Dramamine effect. The Son, directed by the Belgian brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne (La Promesse, Rosetta), is a prime piece of whirlybird filmmaking, and the technique saps what might have been a powerful experience. Olivier (Olivier Gourmet) is a carpentry instructor at a vocational-training center who goes into a tailspin when Francis (Morgan Marinne), the well-mannered 16-year-old who accidentally strangled Olivier's child while trying to restrain him during a car-radio theft, enlists in his class. Recently released after five years in prison, Francis has no idea who his instructor really is, while Olivier, for reasons neither he nor his ex-wife can fathom, is drawn helplessly into the boy's world. We can see how Olivier is carried beyond reason by his obsession, and yet most of the time his carefully maintained bourgeois blandness is the most shocking thing about him. Gourmet gives us all this in spite of the way the Dardennes keep darting around him, slamming us with close-ups instead of allowing his acting to do the job for them. Gourmet seems to be warding off some stranglers of his own.—PETER RAINER

Opens January 10
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