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Review: Rosetta (1999)

Directed by: Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne | 95 minutes | drama | Actors: Émilie Dequenne, Fabrizio Rongione, Anne Yernaux, Olivier Gourmet, Bernard Marbaix, Frédéric Bodson, Florian Delain, Christiane Dorval, Mireille Bailly, Thomas Gollas, Leon Michaux, Victor Marit, Colette Regibeau, Claire Tefnin, Sophie Leboutte

Fifteen-year-old Rosetta has only one clear goal in her impoverished existence: she wants to survive and is willing to do anything for it. “Rosetta” is a movie that grabs you by the throat. While she is so young, Rosetta radiates an incredible strength and a social aggression that comes from her will to survive. Its motto is: the end justifies the means!

The should not have an easy storyline, clever dialogues or a nice soundtrack. The storyline is entirely subordinate to the events that pertain to the daily struggle for survival in a fight for a meager income and to keep herself and her mother above water. That battle is portrayed in a poignant way. We see how Rosetta lives with her mother in an old and dirty mobile home. She almost has to lock up her mother because otherwise she would prostitute herself to get a drink. Nice dialogues do not exist in the environment where Rosetta resides. It is precisely this virtually lack of that only makes the images more powerful.

Rosetta is of very humble origin, does not read books, does not listen to music, does not watch a movie and is only trying to survive. At no point do you really get to know how she feels about things. Rosetta has never had opportunities in life, but she does want to fight hard for them. She wages that battle so relentlessly and inexorably that she sometimes comes across as unlikable.

Nevertheless, Rosetta emphatically also has its own principles that it wants to uphold. She sees work as the only permissible means of earning a living. Theft is out of the question. At the same time, her first friend, with whom she, socially awkward as she is, establishes a careful contact, without embarrassment, is betrayed by her with the sole aim of getting his job. Still, as a spectator, you wonder whether you might have committed the same actions under the same circumstances?

“Rosetta” is a fascinating and hyper-realistic and certainly not a film to relax on the couch with. The film shows sharply how poverty affects all areas of life. The film locations have been carefully chosen, the depressing environment contributes convincingly to the purport of the film.

The camera seals Rosetta – who, like a kind of caged animal, is constantly looking desperately – emphatically close to the skin. Her anger and social distress are portrayed in a penetrating and confrontational way. Directed by the Dardenne brothers, a was made in which Emilie Dequenne plays the stars of the sky, as Rosetta, she is astonishingly convincing in her role. In 1999, Emilie won the prize for best female actress at the Cannes festival for her performance, when the film received the Golden Palm for “best film”.

“Rosetta” is of a sober and penetrating cinematographic beauty without frills. Absolute must!

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