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Cannes legends the Dardenne brothers win best director

Belgian directors Jean-Pierre (L) and Luc Dardenne with the Best Director prize for "Young Ahmed (Le Jeune Ahmed) on May 25, 2019 at the Cannes Film Festival in southern France

Belgium's Dardenne brothers, already Cannes legends, with two Palme d'Or prizes under their belt, added to their tally on Saturday with the best director award for their story of a radicalised Muslim youth, "Young Ahmed".

After "Rosetta" in 1999 and "L'Enfant" in 2005, "we're starting with a serious handicap," joked Jean-Pierre Dardenne in an interview with AFP before leaving for Cannes.

For a film, "Cannes can be a loudspeaker or the Terminator," he said of Cannes' notoriously picky journalists and critics whose opinions can make or break a movie.

Their "Young Ahmed", which premiered at the festival, is a tight and tense tale of a teenager who embraces Islamic extremism, a sensitive topic in their native Belgium that suffered deadly attacks in 2016.

Like their previous gritty slices of working-class life, the picture is set in their native French-speaking Wallonia, an area that served as the base for the terror cell that also carried out the deadly attacks on Paris in November 2015.

"We don't make a film on a theme, we make a film on characters, we are telling the story of a child," said Jean-Pierre Dardenne, whose films are dark portraits of the region's most blighted corners.

The brothers, who are often called Belgium's kitchen-sink answer to the Coen brothers, said deadly Islamist attacks in recent years drove them to explore how young people can be led so far astray.

"We start the film with a boy who's been radicalised and try to tell how he can or cannot leave this kind of enchantment and come back to earth," Jean-Pierre, 68, told AFP.

"Our film looks at religion, how it can attract or take possession of you completely," Luc, 65, told AFP, noting that it was less concerned with the economic and social factors that usually dominate their movies.