Belgian brothers pierce dark depths of L'Enfant

TORONTO-Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne are still celebrating the news of their second Palme d'Or win when they are interviewed in the bar of the Hotel InterContinental just after their movie's North American premiere at the 2005 Toronto International Film Festival.

Speaking through a translator, the Belgian brothers take turns explaining that their latest Cannes conqueror, L'Enfant (The Child)-a chilling drama about a young father who sells his newborn and then tries to get him back-was inspired by a real incident. (The film opens in Vancouver on Friday [April 14].)

They were filming their previous movie, Le Fils (The Son), when they spotted a teenage girl violently pushing a baby carriage and were haunted by the sense that she desperately wanted to get rid of the carriage and the newborn inside. Their initial idea was to write about a girl searching for a father for her child, and that evolved into the story of a 20-year-old father who isn't mature enough to have a baby.

They cast Jérémie Renier, an actor they discovered and featured in four previous films (including their first Palme d'Or winner, 1999's Rosetta), in what is arguably the title role. Renier's chilling Bruno is very much a child, running entirely on impulse.

The Dardennes started in the documentary world, making more than 60 films before switching to drama in 1987 (with Falsch) when they realized they were starting to manipulate their subjects to tell deeper and darker stories. Says Jean-Pierre: "There's something intimate in human beings that you can't film in a documentary. For instance, somebody preparing to murder somebody or somebody about to die or somebody dying, somebody killed-how can you film that as a documentary?"

But they still approach their fictional stories with a documentary maker's passion for issues. "We would like for people to try to understand how Bruno managed to sell his child," Luc says. "What is happening in society today that makes that a possibility?

When an interview is mentioned that quotes them as saying they're actually one person with two sets of eyes, Luc's pair lights up as he says, "Oui, oui" while Jean-Pierre smiles and nods.

They laugh when asked how they collaborate and tell the translator she can answer, then settle back on the couch to listen. "Months ahead of time, they'll talk a lot about an idea and they'll actually go as far as writing down the sequence of events, numbering it, and then Luc writes the first draft. He keeps talking to Jean-Pierre on the phone while he's writing it, and, once he's done that, he sends it off to Jean-Pierre for comments and they Ping-Pong it off one another for maybe nine, 10 drafts."

The translator looks to the brothers, who nod for her to continue. She does, explaining that they scout locations together, take turns filming each other acting out the roles, then bring in the actors to rehearse. They also cast together, take turns dealing with the crew, take turns watching through the monitor, and meet after takes to discuss what they've shot.

After she finishes, Luc says in English: "She is very nice. She will be the maker of our next film."