Reviews and notes
"Your name is Rosetta. My name is Rosetta. You've found a job. I've found a job. You have a friend. I have a friend. You have a normal life. I have a normal life. You won't fall into the rut. I won't fall into the rut." So runs the desperate mantra of the Dardenne brothers' extraordinaru film, its heroine portrayed heartbreakingly by Emile Dequenne, her feral roughness masking an inner grace. This dialogue of self and soul marks Rosetta out as a latterday Everywoman seeking survival in post-industrial Belgium. Stripped of her white factory uniform after being made redundant, Rosetta dresses in a jumbled livery of red jacket, thick yellow tights and gumboots. These practical togs make her into a vivid, harlequin figure in the sparse and sombre winter landscape, underscoring her near-medieval existence foraging for sustenance and striving for the armoury of a 'normal life' in a Western Europe gone wild.
Fierce and proud, her tactics are basic, even clumsy. She poaches fish with makeshift equipment, and bargains desperately in second-hand clothes shops. She will do anything, including betray a potential friend - anything but lower herself to begging. So she despises her slumped alcoholic mother, prostituting herself for the price of a beer. The rut Rosetta so fears gapes wide open; the trapper could be trapped herself, perhaps in the thick black river which borders the caravan park. At one point Rosetta and her estranged mum become embroiled in a fight on its borders, and Rosetta ends up in the dank waters, weighed down with a despairing motherlode.
This startlingly palpable expression of Rosetta's physical and emotional hardship is emblematic of the Dardennes' poetic style, one which repeatedly discovers resonance in the commonplace. In scrutinised minutiae the one-time documentarians find transcendental signs, in a way reminiscent of the work of Bresson (particularly Mouchette
). Rosetta's struggle is literally embodied in her recurring stomach cramps (presumably period pains) and her wrestling bouts with Riquet, the friend whose job she takes. In the final scene, as she drags the gas bottle back to the caravan so she can finish off her and her mother's lives, the burden of mortality is harrowingly intimated.
Such a sense of gravity is emphasised further by the film's restless, handheld camera style, bearing down on the heroine as it follows her, perched almost on her shoulders. Indeed, in the opening factory scene we hardly glimpse Rosetta's face as she ricochets around, angry at her impending fate. The Dardennes thrust us into the defiant rhythm of her long march, evoking the films of Alan Clarke who so often focused on his characters' seemingly endless walking, the tread and dread of a relentless existence.
The starkness is compounded by the film's almost complete lack of music, apart from a scene where Riquet demonstrates his enthusiastic but amateurish drumming (it's the only thing he feels he does "nearly well"); Here, perhaps the film's one upbeat moment, Riquet tries to reach out and offer some warmth to the isolated young woman. It's an emotional connection which offers a mite of hope in the ending when Riquet, albeit unwittingly, interrupts her suicide attempt. But ultimately there is little respite in ROSETTA
, and that's what makes it a film of such eviscerating emotional intensity.
? Lizzie Francke, Sight and Sound, March 2000
Weblink: Roger Ebert review
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