Dir.:Jean Luc and Pierre Dardenne
It’s not for nothing that “Dardenneseque” has entered the lexicon of the modern cinephile.The Dardenne brothers from Belgium, who have been making riveting social dramas for a long time now, burst onto the international stage with their film, La Promesse(1996), which won the Palm ’d Or at Cannes.And now each year which brings a Dardenne film to that festival becomes the instant hot favourite for the top prize.
Rosetta, with Emillie Dequenne in the title role, is the story of a young woman living on the fringes of society.She lives in a trailer yard, just a whisker from living on the street.She appears destined to become a streetwalker.As the film opens we see a young woman who has just lost her job.She reacts like a force of nature, refusing to leave the premises and questioning her firing vehemently.It takes three burly security men to get rid of her.We see this force again and again, most memorably in a scene where she wrestles another employer with a sack of white flour in her arms.She holds on to this sack of flour like a mother holds her child in the face of a child snatcher. The sack of flour is her life, it represents a job, which is what she wants above all else.
The quest for a regular job and a normal life define her character with a blinding clarity. She lives in Belgium, and we assume that Western Europe would offer a solid social security net, one that she would have access to.Instead she lives with her mother, an alcoholic who resorts to giving blow jobs to feed her addiction. Clearly the apple has fallen very far from the tree and Rosetta displays a heartbreaking stubbornness to fight her insurmountable circumstances.
The film stays very close to Rosetta, the directors train their camera on her face and build an uncomfortable level of intimacy with a protagonist who is ramrod straight in her dealings with life and not endowed with any of the fluff that leaves room for negotiation.Her choices in life are informed by an almost iron cast set of values, and for her achieving a normal life is a goal that must be pursued relentlessly.
Olivier Gourmet is a constant presence in the films of the Dardenne brothers, his most memorable turn being in The Son.They cast him in roles big and small, pivotal and inane.In a criterion DVD interview he says perhaps the Dardenne’s will one day reduce him not just to a cameo but to a subliminal presence, inserting his still photograph in one frame out the 24, at random!Here, in a small but significant role, he plays the owner of a popular chain of waffle stalls, yes Belgian waffles in Belgium, but why not? He is a practical man, he coaches Rosetta in the humdrum art of waffle making but when his wayward son gets suspended from school, he is forced to fire Rosetta to accommodate him.This sets up the very intense flour sack scene that I described earlier.
Because the film is so honest about the life of Rosetta, it is by extension honest and scathing about the socio-economic situation of the so called developed societies.The vehicle of this honesty is Ms Dequenne who was cast by the directors after a long nationwide hunt and they use her rawness and honesty with perfection.Ms Dequenne brings the film to life with a soul baring and very authentic portrayal. Rosetta’s desperation is the desperation of every present-day Spanish or Greek youth reduced to foraging for food in trashcans.The Dardenne brothers are among the very best in the world today and any film of theirs is a good introduction to their oeuvre.Rosetta is a fine place to start.