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France/Belgium 1999
Directed by
Jean-Pierre Dardenne / Luc Dardenne
95 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars


Synopsis: Rosetta (Emilie Dequenne), a Belgian teenager living in a caravan park with her alcoholic mother is obssessed by one thing - getting a job.

Small wonder that Almodovar was miffed when this low-budget, social conscience film pipped All About My Mother for the 1999 Palme D'Or. A strongly politicised film depicting the lonely life of the 18 year old Rosetta, it was influential in generating legislation in Belgium to protect the work rights of minors and has also garnered high critical praise, particularly for the performance of 18 year old Emilie Dequenne in her first screen role, which earnedher the Best Actress award at Cannes.

As opposed to the imaginary universe of the comparable Dancer In The Dark, the Dardenne brothers use the social realist style to depict the loveless, monotonous world of urban fringe-dwellers, damaged human beings to whom society turns a blind eye. (Compare the camp-site here with that in Snatch for instance. There is no essential difference between the two, but whilst the poverty and brutality of the latter is an occasion for good-hearted cheer, in Rosetta it is the breeding ground of desperation).

Although fiercely independent Rosetta herself is not a tomboyishly-attractive heroine, but a plain, ungainly and sullen creature, wracked by her material insecurity, alone in the world with her helpless drunk of a mother (Anne Yernaux), a lush not above trading her favours for a drink. The Dardennes bring home her reality powerfully not through working our empathy for the character, who is anything but likeable, but through the accumulation of small struggles that is her daily lot. The very fact that all this is depicted with an insistent matter-of-factness (and shot entirely with a hand-held camera to signify its verisimilitude), unembellished by any aestheticising qualities, with the coldness and dampness of  a Belgium winter palpable, is exactly what has endeared it to the critics although those looking for Hollywood-style entertainment will be sorely disappointed.

Rosetta has none of the comforts cinema-goers are accustomed to but this is exactly what the Dardennes want – to show the glamourless life of the urban poor.




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