Face to Face with the Dardennes

The Cine-Files, issue 11 (fall 2016)

Doug Cummings

Graduate Student
School of Cinematic Arts, USC



This video essay is based on a chapter I published in 2009 in Committed Cinema: The Films of Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne; Essays & Interviews, edited by Bert Cardullo, which was the first English book that focused on the work of the Belgian filmmakers. I had interviewed the Dardennes in 2006 and was fascinated by their formal approach to the philosophical problem of the face-to-face encounter that often serves as the climax of their films. After publishing the essay, I noticed a shift in their subsequent films that began to focus on the aftermath of the face-to-face encounter, which was confirmed when I interviewed them again for the LA Weekly in 2012.

In thinking about this shift in their approach, I became intrigued by the writings of Béla Balázs and  the films he championed, such as Downfall (1922) and its Danish star, Asta Nielsen. Indeed, Béla Balázs’ theory is discussed in Anna Swenson’s essay,  “The Face,” which appears in an earlier issue of this journal.  Luc Dardenne’s second volume of diaries, published in France in 2015 has also been influential on my thinking about their work. The video essay provided me a vehicle for revisiting their  work, allowing me to explore the Dardennes’ shifting approach to the face-to-face theme, while providing viewers a sense of how this theme is actualized through sound and image.



Balázs, Béla. Béla Balázs: Early Film Theory. Edited by Erica Carter. Translated by Rodney Livingston. New York: Berghahn Books, 2010.

Cummings, Doug.  “The Brothers Dardenne: Responding to the Face of the Other,” Committed Cinema: The Films of Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne; Essays & Interviews, edited by Bert Cardullo, 55-68. Newscastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2009.

—  “Interview with the Dardennes.” Filmjourney.org. March, 2016. http://www.filmjourney.org/?p=835.

—   “Dardenne Brothers Interview.” LA Weekly, March 15, 2012.

Dardenne, Luc. Au dos de nos images II: 2005-2014. Paris: Éditions du seuil.

Swenson, Anna. “The Face.” The Cine-Files (Savannah College of Art and Design) 2 (2), 2012.


The Cine-Files, issue 11 (fall 2016)