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The third city: The post secular space of the dardenne brothers’ seraing

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)264-281
Number of pages18
Issue number3
Published1 Oct 2019

King's Authors


Set principally in or around Seraing, an industrial region in decline just outside of Liège, in Belgium, the films of Jean-Luc and Pierre Dardenne marry geographical and historical-social realism with a series of ethical inquiries into such topics as immigration, unemployment, black market trading and petty crime. To date, critical commentary on the films has tended mainly to read the work of the Dardennes along two lines. The dominant approach uses the work of Emmanuel Levinas as a philosophical touchpoint in order to illuminate the ethical dimension of the Dardenne brothers’ films. The second considers the political dimensions of their films. However a third, related body of writing has emerged in later years, one which understands in terms of their relation to what Jürgen Habermas (2006), amongst others, has dubbed the postsecular age. This article locates the Dardennes’ films at the intersection between the ethical, the political, and the postsecular, looking to the theologically-inflected philosophy of Gillian Rose to make the case that Seraing serves as the model of what Rose refers to as “the third city” - a postsecular site which challenges easy divisions between politics and ethics. As such Seraing is not, I shall argue, a mere staging post for the moral, political and spiritual problems posed by the films, but its cradle. Paying particular attention to the Dardennes’ film Two Days, One Night (Deux Jours, Une Nuit, 2014) I demonstrate what an engagement that turns on existence with and within the city - an engagement that is both political and ethical - might look like.

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