Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Review - Rosetta (1999 - dir. Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne)

A problem that directors always face is how to show their actors' faces so that we can see them emote and generally act about a bit. It's odd then that Rosetta takes the complete opposite route. A lot of the film is spent looking at the back of the main character's head. Can this possibly work?

Rosetta (the gorgeous Émilie Dequenne - looking not so gorgeous in this, her first film role) is a young girl who lives in a trailer park with her alcoholic mum (who just so happens to turn tricks for drink). To say that Rosetta is obsessed with finding a job is an understatement. She wants to join society and pay her own way rather than begging. The story is completely centred on Rosetta as she goes about her daily routines and tries to find work. At any lengths.

Émilie Dequenne is stunning in Rosetta. Her expression is generally one of determination. She only smiles once during the whole film (and that's only a half smile). That's why seeing the back of her head as she charges about works; you don't need to see her face because you know exactly what her expression will be. Despite this limited range, I identified with her for the majority of the film, and when I didn't I still felt empathy. The payoff for this style of acting comes in the final shot. And it is stunningly well done. Dequenne is quickly becoming my favourite actress.

Even though Rosetta looks fairly grumpy throughout (as she would, given her circumstances) there are moments of humour. She meets a friend Riquet (Fabrizio Rongione) who tries wooing her by playing her a tape of him playing an instrument. Badly. Shame too that it's the drums. Rosetta reacts in her usual fashion, doesn't raise a smile, and carries on eating. Irony also plays quite a strong part in a scene at the end. It made me chuckle despite (due to?) being on the black side of the humour spectrum.

A side effect of focussing so intently on one character is something that I wasn't expecting: tension. When Rosetta is serving from a waffle van, the camera stays focussed on her face; the reverse view is never shown. She sees something that she's not happy about, but the viewer only sees her expression. Eventually, the subject of her negative reaction is revealed. The tension isn't unbearable in any way shape or form but gives a subtle sense of unease. Quality directing.

Initially, I thought it was going to be hard to sit through an hour and a half of shaky cam footage, yet I found the whole thing really enjoyable. Not the most exciting of films but very satisfying nonetheless. Worth watching for Dequenne's performance alone.

If you like this you could also try:
The Kid with a bike, Silence of Lorna, The Pack.


  1. Sounds promising - more grimy than gritty I would have thought.

  2. There is definitely a smearing of grime. You'd probably like this. Shame it costs £25.

  3. I saw several Dardenne films this year, my favorite is The Son (2002).
    ps there is a new 6 disc Dardenne box set out on 31 dec from amazon.co.uk if you have £44. (though probably these are films that you can order from the library)

  4. I've now seen two Dardenne films and I'm pretty impressed so I will be checking out their other work. I think it might be time to look into a Emilie Dequenne season too.