This drama is a raw, intense, and engaging anatomy of a 15-year-old boy's moral coming of age in a bleak Belgian town. Igor (Jeremie Renier) spends most of his time working for his father (Olivier Gourmet) who runs an underground operation importing and housing illegal immigrants from Africa and Eastern Europe. In fact, he loses his job as an auto mechanic's apprentice because there is so much to do at the rundown building that houses all the men and women. When the authorities raid the place, Hamidou (Rasmane Ouedraogo), an African, is critically injured after falling from a scaffolding. Igor promises to look after his wife Assita (Assita Ouedraogo) and his infant son. Instead of taking him to the morgue, Roger buries the body in cement.
La Promesse, written and directed by Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne, beautifully traces the unfolding of Igor's conscience. Not able to tell the truth about what happened to Hamidou, he begins doing favors for Assita. Then Igor finds himself torn between loyalty to his father and keeping his promise to Hamidou. The drama shows how empathy and compassion are part and parcel of moral intelligence. This Belgian film hurrahs ethics in a depressed urban milieu where amorality holds sway over the hearts and minds of so many cynical people.