Belgian-produced “Rosie” was well placed in Toronto’s Discovery program. This scrupulously unsentimental case study stars newcomer Aranka Coppens as a 13 -year-old who, tired of home-front lies and confrontations, increasingly takes refuge in her own fantasy world. Coppens, said to have been cast “from the street” by helmer-scribe Patrice Toye, is a real find, a born thesp whose eyes betray a very old soul. Her story, the most incisive look at adolescent angst since Peter Jackson’s “Heavenly Creatures,” looks to be a shoo-in on fest and arthouse circuits.
Toye, here making her directorial bow, opens with Rosie being packed off to reform school for having committed some unspeakable act. Whatever it is she has done, she’s unrepentant, a regular gum-snapping little rebel. As Rosie adjusts to her new surroundings, we flash back to the events that culminated in her present predicament. What we discover is as damning to society in general as it is to Rosie’s self-obsessed guardians.
Rosie’s problems stem from the most basic rejection. She never knew her father, and her mother (Sara de Roo), not wanting to scare off possible suitors, passes Rosie off as her kid sister. Complicating matters is the arrival of Michel (Frank Vercruyssen), an unemployed uncle who imposes himself on Rosie as surrogate dad.
Little wonder Rosie hides out atop a refinery substation, playing house and reading lurid pulp romances. She casts handsome classmate Jimi (Joost Wijnant) as her Prince Charming, and shocks the guy with her precocious come-ons. Her personal mantra: “Fly! Take off! Soar!”
Things at home go from tolerable to less so when Rosie’s mom begins a new relationship and Uncle Michel starts behaving like a jealous lover. The adults in Rosie’s life are so self-involved, they don’t look up when she comes home scraped and bloody after being knocked down by a car. What’s a girl to do but panhandle, shoplift and go joy-riding with Jimi in stolen cars?
Encouraged to stay out so Mom and her new boyfriend (Dirk Roofthooft) can have a bit of privacy, Rosie obliges by becoming a pyromaniac and baby-napper. As in other screen tales of alienated youths, dating from “Rebel Without a Cause” through “Badlands,” Rosie and Jimi head out on the highway and replace their troubled homes with their idealized version of the extended family.
Two things set this film apart from the usual run of alienated-teen pics: Coppens’ tempered — and therefore all the more disturbing — turn as love-starved outsider and Toye’s refusal to play favorites in the brewing generational conflict. In the end, Rosie is as much menace as misunderstood child, and her “sis”/mom, well-played by de Roo, is far more caring than she first appears.
Tech credits, particularly Richard van Oosterhout’s bracing photography and John Parish’s pop score, further the edgy, anything-can-happen tone. North American release has been saddled with “Devil in My Head” subtitle. The idea, obviously, is to billboard Rosie’s problem. Toye succeeds precisely because she rejects such obvious ploys.