What are the The Dardenne Brothers most known for in their films in regards to their themes of child/parent relationships? Is it more about the child or the difficulties of trying to be a parent?  

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Many of the Dardenne Brothers's films explore the philosophical implications of being a parent.  Both directors recognize that there are philosophical tenets within parenting that help to construct the essence of cinematic drama. Any depiction of parenting can be reflective of both the parents or the child, and the emotional, ethical, and philosophical challenges that are present in either condition.  Yet, I think that an interesting case can be made to suggest that the Dardenne brothers's films strive to explore the difficulty in being a parent.  In films such as La Promesseand Rosetta, the difficulties in being a parent are vitally important.

In La Promesse, Roger struggles in being a parent.  Roger has lived a life off of the exploitation of others for so long that it simply seems natural that his son would be involved in "the business."  Roger does not render much in way of moral guidance and ethical structure to Igor.  He simply figures that by force of will, Igor will do whatever his father wants.  It is through Igor's conflict and his eventual choices that the philosophical implications of being a parent are revealed.  When Igor voices his own beliefs and defies the immediate wishes of his father, Roger is shown to be impotent in action. There is little he can do.  This helps to highlight the difficulty in being a parent.  When a child acknowledges the moral abandonment of a parent, there is little that can be done.  Igor's defiance and his objections to his father illuminates the difficulty in being a parent.  The teaching of a moral and ethical code to children becomes one of the hardest elements of parenting.  Roger's lack of a response other than brute force is reflective of this difficulty.

The difficulty in being there for children regardless of context and contingency is another aspect that the Dardenne brothers bring out in their films.  Rosetta is an instance where being able to "be there" for one's child as a transcendental reality amidst contextual change is explored.  It is shown to be one of the most difficult aspects of parenting. Rosetta's mother has to be there for her child when she is released from her probation program.  Rosetta's mother has to be there despite economic challenges that besiege both of them and despite her own alcoholism.  She fails in both.  Rosetta's mother cannot provide the economic environment to help Rosetta's transition and she cannot help succumbing to her own demons in alcoholism, evident in how she cannot stay in the rehabilitation clinic. Rosetta's mother displays how difficult it is to be a parent in being a force of constancy amidst a world of change.  The world of contingency and temporality is too much for Rosetta's mother, forcing Rosetta to be both child and caregiver. When Rosetta has to help her mother so much that she misses work, it is a reflection of the difficulty and pathetic pain involved in being a parent.

In both films, the Dardenne Brothers articulate the struggle in being a parent.  Parenthood is seen from a philosophical lens where much in way of challenge and difficulty exists.  The right thing is tested through external reality.  The force it exerts on human beings cause them to  fail at the most needed task.  In both films, children are shown having to make right that which is wrong.  Parenthood is shown to be so difficult because it is so easy to abdicate.  It is here in which the Dardenne Brothers articulate the difficulties in being a parent.

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