Less facetiously, the person Kenny most resembles is Stephen Graham's character in This is England (2006): a recently released ex-con, blustering and sentimental, toxically insecure and resentful, taut with violence, shouldering his way back into the lives of those who had finally got used to having him gone. As with This is England, there's an unassertive man (Kenny's brother Dave, played by Jeroen Perceval) who's started seeing the ex-con's ex-girlfriend (Veerle Baetens' Sylvie), a woman who wants nothing to do with the impending feud.
The twist in The Ardennes (a Belgian film in Flemmish, French, and Dutch, with subtitles) is that Dave and Sylvie can't quite get around to telling Kenny about their relationship, let alone that Sylvie is pregnant with Dave's child. This is partly guilt about having escaped scot-free from the same botched robbery that got Kenny four years of prison time, but it's mostly due to fear: Kenny is psychopath.
What's impressive about Janssens' performance – and the restraint of director Robin Pront – is that the psychopathy isn't the foam-flecked or arm-flailing sort. It's sullen, child-like, thuggish; depressing, quotidian psychopathy. This means that Kenny isn't a Shakespearian villain in the way that Graham's Combo was, but it gives The Ardennes a realism that holds up even when the merde hits the ventilateur.
It's not a film for everybody. Some will see it as grisly pulp without redeeming wit. But it has atmosphere, tension, and punchiness in a week when worthier films conspicuously lack these qualities. It also has a scene of Belgian Mark Kermode kicking someone in the face, but maybe you have to be a fellow film critic for that scene to have the full disconcerting effect.
|The Ardennes film review
|Various Locations | MAP
|Leicester Square (underground)
09 Dec 16 – 09 Feb 17, Times vary
|£determined by cinema
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