Sunday, June 09, 2024

Tori & Lokita


Written and directed by Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne, Tori & Lokita is the story of two young African immigrants who arrive in Belgium as they hope to gain residence while pretending to be siblings. The film is a look into the migrant situation in Europe in which two different African immigrants try to survive and hope to find a home in Belgium. Starring Pablo Schills, Mbundu Joely, Alban Ukaj, Tijmen Govaerts, Charlotte De Bruyne, Nadege Ouedraogo, and Marc Zinga. Tori & Lokita is a riveting and somber film from the Dardenne Brothers.

The film revolves around two young and different African immigrants who live in Belgium as one of them hopes to get immigration papers while they both do all sorts of things including drug deals for a sleazy chef and such. It is a film with a simple premise, yet Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne create a story that does have a political slant as it relates to the plight that migrants deal with as they try to enter a country legally as well as the terrible social conditions, they must endure including the bureaucratic process into getting immigration papers. Yet, at the heart of the story are these titular characters as Tori (Pablo Schills) is a 12-year-old from Benin and Lokita (Mbundu Joely) is a 17-year-old from Cameroon as they pretend to be siblings as they work as couriers for a restaurant owner in Betim (Alban Ukaj) while the latter is forced to do sexual favors for him. Lokita also must deal with the people who brought here as she owes them money while is hoping to get money for her mother back in Cameroon and legal documents that Tori already has. Lokita takes an offer from Betim to make some more money and get legal documents but what she learns is that she must be separated from Tori to work in a remote marijuana farm.

The direction of the Dardenne Brothers is engaging for the sense of urgency that occurs but also in its simplicity. Shot on location in Liege and areas around the city in Belgium, the Dardenne Brothers maintain a sense of intimacy with the close-ups and medium shots with some wide shots in some of the locations including a few scenes in its third act. Still, there is that sense of realism in their direction with some long shots that linger for a few minutes with hand-held cameras as if they are making a documentary film. The direction also displays the sense of location in where the titular characters must go to sell the drugs to Betim’s clients including a club doorman who feels like he is overpaying though Tori, later in its third act, offers to sell him some weed cheap. Though being couriers for Betim has its benefits financially and the food they eat, Lokita unfortunately must do more to get money as she is in a terrifying position due to the money, she owes to a smuggler in Firmin (Marc Zinga).

The direction also plays into this underworld that migrants must take part in as Lokita is sent to a remote farm where she must do a lot of duties in remote isolation as it is hard for her to deal with. Even as she deals with being away from Tori who still goes to school while he is concerned for Lokita knowing she also has health issues. The third act does not just play into Tori’s willingness to help Lokita as well as finding where she is where he discovers this underworld that is terrifying. Still, Tori is someone that has a lot of determination and street smart to get things done yet he also must contend with the dark underworld that he and Lokita are to get the latter her immigration papers. Overall, the Dardenne Brothers craft a gripping yet mesmerizing film about two African migrants struggling to get by and find a home in Belgium.

Cinematographer Benoit Dervaux does brilliant work with the film’s cinematography as it is straightforward for much of the film’s daytime scenes with its natural lighting while using some stylish lighting for the interior/exterior scenes at night. Editor Marie-Helene Dozo does excellent work with the editing as it is straightforward in its presentation with a few jump cuts for some of the suspenseful moments in the film. Production designer Igor Gabriel, along with art directors Julien Denis and Paul Rouschop, does amazing work with the look of the kitchen where Betim works as well as the room where Lokita lives in the farm.

Costume designer Dorothee Guiraud does nice work with the costumes as it is casual with some coats and colorful clothing. Sound editor Valene Leroy and sound engineer Jean-Pierre Duret do superb work with the sound in how it plays at a certain location through small sparse moments as well as loud moments including scenes where music is played including a few songs that the titular characters sing.

The casting by Kevin Dardenne is wonderful as it features some notable small roles from Nadage Ouedraogo as an associate of Firmin, Thomas Doret and Annette Closset as a couple of Lokita’s caseworkers, Emma Cohen-Hadria as Tori’s teacher, Tijem Govaerts as a marijuana farmer who runs everything for Betim while not giving Lokita access to a phone so that no one can find the farm, and Charlotte De Bruyne as a drug farmer in Margot who tries to warn Lokita of what she has to deal with. Marc Zinga is fantastic as the smuggler Firmin as the man that brought Lokita to Belgium as he is also this cruel figure that wants Lokita to pay him the money she owes though he is someone that could not intimidate Tori knowing Tori already has legal papers. Alban Ukaj is excellent as Betim as an Italian restaurant owner who is also a drug dealer that is trying run things despite overcharging for some clients while he also forces Lokita to do sexual favors for him.

Finally, there is the duo Pablo Schills and Mbundu Joely in tremendous leading performances in their respective roles as Tori and Lokita. Schills’ performance is full of energy and street-smart as this 12-year-old kid who always finds a solution while also knows how to deal with clients where he presents himself as a mature kid while also being a kid who does attend school. Joely’s performance as Lokita is more reserved as this 17-year-old young woman who is dealing with a lot on her plate in owing money to her smuggler, doing interviews to get legal documents, and working for Betim whom she must do sexual favors for him. Schills and Joely together bring this sense of camaraderie as well as this sense of urgency into the situations they are in as well as help each other by pretending to be siblings as they are a highlight of the film.

The 2023 Region A Blu-Ray from the Criterion Collection as part of the Janus Contemporaries series presents the film in a 1:85:1 aspect ratio with an uncompressed 5.1 Surround Sound in French with English subtitles. The lone special feature in the Blu-Ray is a 24-minute interview with Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne as they talk about the film as well as their own background in documentary that includes footage of the early documentary films they have done since the late 1970s. They also reveal their approach to directing actors and how it had evolved in their career along with mentioning a few key collaborators in sound engineer Jean-Pierre Duret, editor Marie-Helene Dozo, production designer Igor Gabriel, and one of their sons in Kevin who was a prop master and has become their casting director.

The Blu-Ray set also features a booklet that contains an essay by film critic Michael Joshua Rowin entitled Tori and Lokita: No Safe Harbors. The essay discusses the film as well as the subject matter as it relates to the migrant situation that had been occurring since the late 2010s. Even as the essay reveals how the Dardenne Brothers produced the story by talking to educators to young migrant children along with information about their troubled situations as they hoped the film would give voice to these children. Since Schills and Joely are not professional actors and this was the first film for both, the Dardennes revealed how they had to adjust their own filmmaking process to get the two to find what they need for the characters they play as the essay is a fine read.

Tori & Lokita is a tremendous film from the Dardenne Brothers that features great performances from Pablo Schills and Mbundu Joely in their respective titular roles. Along with its ensemble cast, natural visuals, and a gripping story of survival and the plight of young African migrants living in Europe. It is a film that explores the journey of two outsiders living in a foreign world where they try to survive and find a home there while dealing with many obstacles. In the end, Tori & Lokita is a spectacular film from the Dardenne Brothers.

Dardenne Brothers Films: (Falsch) – (I Think of You) – La Promesse - Rosetta - Le Fils - L'Enfant - To Each His Own Cinema-Darkness - Lorna's Silence - The Kid with a Bike - Two Days, One Night - The Unknown Girl - Young Ahmed

© thevoid99 2024


Ruth said...

The premise sounds intriguing, and having non-professional actors often lends more authenticity to the story that's personal to them.

thevoid99 said...

@Ruth-It's something the Dardenne Brothers are known for as they always employ non-actors and non-professional actors as it adds to their style though it's an idea that isn't new dating back to cinema in the early days as well as the films of Robert Bresson and Pedro Costa.