Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 5/18/06 w/ Additional Edits & a New Conclusion.
The Belgian team of Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne are considered to be one of the finest filmmaking team in European cinema. Known for making documentaries and acclaimed features that started with their 1996 international breakthrough, La Promesse (The Promise) about the harsh conditions of illegal immigrants working illegally. The success of that film helped the Dardenne Brothers become prominent figures in European cinema as 2002's Le Fils (The Son) won more international acclaim as did 2005's L'Enfant (The Child) which won the duo their second Palme D'or at the 2005 Cannes Film Festival. The first time they won the prestigious award was in 1999 in a film about a young woman trying to get a job to care for her ailing mother in Rosetta.
Written and directed by the Dardenne Brothers, Rosetta is about a young woman who lives in a poor town section in Belgium seeking to get a job. Due to the rules of the country and society, Rosetta hopes to get a job to not only become a part of society but to care for her alcoholic mother. Playing the title role is a then-unknown actress named Emilie Dequenne in her film debut as the duo uses the shaky, hand-held documentary-like style of filmmaking that helped them gain international attention. Also starring Anne Yernaux, Fabrizio Rongione, and Olivier Gourmet. Rosetta is a gripping, powerful drama from the Dardenne Brothers.
After being fired from a trial factory job despite being a good worker, Rosetta continues to struggle with her young life while taking care of her mother (Anne Yernaux) who resorts alcoholism and prostitution. Forced to sell old clothes and other things just get money for food, she would often ask someone for a job including her friend Riquet (Fabrizio Rongione). Amidst the chaos of her desire to find work, her home life is even worse as she lives in a very poor trailer park where her trailer often has no running water and the conditions are poor. Her mother is depressed and desperate to have some kind of alcohol. Frustrated by everything including how her mother would let herself become a wh*re, she is desperate to get things as Riquet finds her a job.
Getting a trial job to work in a bakery, Rosetta hopes to use the job and money to get her mother into treatment for her alcoholism. Unfortunately, the attempt to get her mother cleans as she falls into a pond full of mud. Upset over the incident and what's going on in her life, she spends the night at Riquet's home who tries to cheer her up but is only interested in wanting to get through the next day. Hoping to focus more on work, she is upset when she learns that her boss (Olivier Gourmet) is forced to fire so he can put his son to work after he got kicked out of school. With a troubling stomach pain and her trailer park’s janitor watching her, she falls into depression until Riquet tries to help her out once again.
After helping Riquet after he fell onto the park's muddy pond, Rosetta plans a scheme to get herself a job. She tells her former boss, who is also Riquet's employer in the waffle stand business, a lie that leads to Riquet being fired. The plan worked as Rosetta takes Riquet's job of running a waffle stand yet is stalked by her friend for taking the job. Still, no matter how hard she works, she still has to come home and find her mother passed out drunk leaving her to face another kind of reality.
Given to their background in documentary filmmaking, it's clear that the Dardenne Brothers chose to aim for realism in the sense of situations and locations. Especially on the technical front where many of the aesthetics is clearly inspired from the Dogme 95 movement where all films have to be shot on location with no added sound and all the camera work is hand-held. It's an approach to the film's direction along with close-ups and still shots that allows the audience to take part into Rosetta's situation. It's not just their direction that works but their script that allows the sense of realism to the point that there's a sense of repetition in the way Rosetta would go home, take off her shoes and grab her boots from a pipe while doing her usual activities at home. There, the Dardenne Brothers' screenplay brings enough situations and heartache to the character of Rosetta.
Helping the Dardenne Brothers in the camera work is cinematographer Alain Marcoen who doesn't go for the grainy look of Dogme but a more traditional yet colorful look to the film while retaining its gritty features. Production designer Igor Gabriel and costume designer Monic Parelle also plays to the film's gritty features to make the look of the movie authentic from the poorness of the trailer park to the clothes that Rosetta wears where usually, she's wearing a gym coat. In tradition to the realness of Dogme 95, the sound work of Thomas Gauder reveals the sound of the street and motorcycles to bring an atmosphere. Editor Marie-Helene Dozo does great work in giving the film some rhythm in the editing with some nice, jump-cut styles and leaving moments for the director to take a long shot. While there's no music played throughout the entire film, it's only one on scene from an original piece by Jean-Pierre Coco during a scene when Riquet tries to cheer up Rosetta.
The film's cast has memorable moments in the small role whether its Bernard Marbaix as the trailer park manager, Thomas Gallas as the Mother's boyfriend, and Frederic Bodson as Rosetta’s first boss. Longtime Dardenne collaborator Olivier Gourmet gives an excellent performance as Rosetta’s boss in the bakery and waffle scenes who understands her desire to work only to get caught up in her scheme just to give her a job. Gourmet is excellent in his role as does Fabrizio Rongione as Riquet who tries to help Rosetta in every way as his character has a major development from loyalty to frustration as he falls for her scheme. Anne Yernaux is also great in the role of Rosetta’s mother who brings the sense of depression and unwillingness to clean herself up as she stands out in a very complex role.
Finally, there's Emilie Dequenne in a real breakout performance in the title role. In her film debut, Dequenne brings all the realness and struggle of a young woman searching to get a real job. Even with a crippling stomach pain and all the anxieties and pressures her mother puts her, Dequenne sells every moment of heartbreak while in the third act, we see her forced to deal with guilt and a new kind of reality. For a debut performance, it's truly one of the more remarkable performances of the decade as Dequenne along with the likes of Elodie Bouchez, Ludivine Sagnier, Natacha Regnier, and Audrey Tautou in the new generation of French actresses.
When Rosetta premiered at the 1999 Cannes Film Festival in competition along with Tim Robbins' Cradle Will Rock, Pedro Almodovar's All About My Mother, Michael Winterbottom's Wonderland, Peter Greenway's 8 ½ Women, Atom Egoyan's Felicia's Journey, David Lynch's The Straight Story, John Sayles' Limbo, and Jim Jarmusch's Ghost Dog. The little known Belgium film pulled a huge upset when it beat many perennial favorites including Almodovar's All About My Mother which Almodovar won Best Director. In the end, Rosetta won the Palme D;or for the Dardenne Brothers while Emilie Dequenne shared the Best Actress prize that year with Severine Caneele for L'Humanite by Bruno Dumont.
Rosetta is a haunting yet mesmerizing film from the Dardenne Brothers. Audiences new to the brothers will see this as a great place to start which would prepare for them for later films like Le Fils, L'Enfant, and Le Silence de Lorna. Featuring a remarkable performance from Emilie Dequenne, it's definitely a film that revels into what young people go through at a time when they were willing to do anything during a troubled economy. In the end, Rosetta is a powerful film from the Dardenne Brothers.
Dardenne Brothers Films: (Falsch) - (I Think of You) - La promesse - The Son - L'Enfant - Lorna's Silence - The Kid with a Bike - Two Days, One Night