The Belgian crime drama The Ardennes is predictably tense and violent, but its aesthetic pleasures are also considerable. Director Robin Pront plays a lot of familiar notes, but with just enough verve and variation to keep things interesting. The film opens in the immediate aftermath of a botched robbery. The ones escaping are Dave (Jeroen Perceval) and Sylvie (Veerle Baetens); the one left behind is Kenny (Kevin Janssens), Dave's older brother and Sylvie's boyfriend. Kenny keeps his mouth shut about his accomplices, so only he gets sent to prison. Things have changed when he gets out on parole four years later: Dave is now in love with Sylvie, and not only are they planning to move in together, they're expecting a child. Needless to say, the duo don't reveal that to Kenny, who kept a picture of Sylvie on his wall his whole time in prison.
Pront and his cast clearly know how to keep us watching. The director likes to shoot his scenes in moodily lit tableaux, the images like something out of a grisly storybook. The urban milieu here is gray and oppressive – the title refers to a forest that the brothers used to go to as children, during a more carefree time– but there's a rough beauty in it. The “crime” part of this crime drama doesn't really come until the final act. (Shocker: The Ardennes makes an appearance.) Until then, Pront has fun bouncing these characters off each other: a disastrous Christmas dinner here, a night-club fight there. Little details gain huge importance.