Rosetta

Directed by Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne
Starring: Emilie Dequenne, Fabrizio Rongione, Anne Yernaux, Olivier Gourmet.
MPAA Rating: R for language.

Review by Matt Heffernan
December 4, 1999

At this year's Cannes Film Festival, there was a fair amount of controversy over the award winners: none of them were American. Only one award went to a film in English, and it was the Canadian animated short When the Day Breaks. Some said this was a conspiracy, even though the jury had two Americans on it (Jeff Goldblum and Holly Hunter), and the president was Canadian director David Cronenberg (Crash, eXistenZ). I'm not one to go along with such theories, but I have to believe that there were more deserving films of the Palme d'Or award than Rosetta.

Rosetta (Emilie Dequenne) is a young woman, barely out of her teens, who must support herself and her mother (Anne Yernaux), who is a promiscuous alcoholic (not exactly a profitable lifestyle). They live in a trailer park, outside of a Belgian city. Rosetta is fired from a temp job, and must go about finding more work.

Going into town isn't trivial, either. She has to cross a vast wetland, and a busy highway, just to inquire at different places of business. She talks to a young man named Riquet (Fabrizio Rongione), who works at a waffle stand. He tips her off that his boss (Olivier Gourmet) is looking for somebody, and gets her a job mixing waffle batter. The security of that job is shaky at best, and Rosetta's mother can't stay on the wagon. Rosetta has to go to extreme lengths to keep her life in order, even if she isn't too keen on living.

I could see how this would be a compelling story. It does maintain interest, even with a cast of first-time film actors (except Gourmet). Unfortunately, the interest is not very deep, and the pacing is quite a bit lethargic. That doesn't make for a pleasant combination, and the jerky handheld camerawork does little to help. And if you find it difficult to watch some of that footage, you won't like seeing it repeated several times. Directing brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne had to pad out their film with completely redundant scenes in order to achieve feature length.

The performances are impressive, especially Dequenne's. She also won an award at Cannes, and this should prove to be the start of a successful career. She and Rongione had an interesting dynamic (I wouldn't exactly call it "chemistry"), and their scenes together are the best in the film. One that stands out is scene where he chases her on a moped around the city. However, moments like that are too infrequent in Rosetta, so I couldn't fully recommend seeing it.

Actually, I know there were better films at Cannes. David Lynch's The Straight Story is easily a better candidate. I haven't seen any of the other nominees yet, but I'm sure that at least some of them are very good, perhaps even great. Well, I can't harp on this issue forever. The Golden Globes usually give me plenty of reasons to get upset.


For more information, go to the Internet Movie Database:
Rosetta (1999)

Here's some merchandise for sale at Amazon.com
Rosetta (1999) -- VHS - English subtitles


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Review © 1999 Matt Heffernan