×

Rosetta

Anchored by a performance of grim determination and almost feral instincts from its lead actress, "Rosetta" is an extremely small European art movie from Belgian brothers Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne that will alienate as many viewers as it wins over. Following the day-to-day struggles of a tough Belgian teenager with the basic building blocks of life --- a job, money, home life --- the movie plays like "Run Lola Run" meets Ken Loach, as the title heroine goes about her chores in a dreary, wintry town. Pic will clearly get a profile boost from copping two prizes at Cannes --- best actress and (utterly unexpectedly and against big-name competition) the Palme d'Or --- but outside the festival circuit this is very specialized fare that's more suited to the small screen.

With:
Rosetta ..... Emilie Dequenne Riquet..... Fabrizio Rongione Rosetta's mother..... Anne Yernaux Boss ..... Olivier Gourmet

Anchored by a performance of grim determination and almost feral instincts from its lead actress, “Rosetta” is an extremely small European art movie from Belgian brothers Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne that will alienate as many viewers as it wins over. Following the day-to-day struggles of a tough Belgian teenager with the basic building blocks of life — a job, money, home life — the movie plays like “Run Lola Run” meets Ken Loach, as the title heroine goes about her chores in a dreary, wintry town. Pic will clearly get a profile boost from copping two prizes at Cannes — best actress and (utterly unexpectedly and against big-name competition) the Palme d’Or — but outside the festival circuit this is very specialized fare that’s more suited to the small screen.

The Dardenne brothers had a small-scale sleeper hit in Cannes’ Directors Fortnight three years ago with their second feature, “The Promise,” a morally probing father-son tale that drew fine reviews, some best foreign film prizes from stateside critics and moderate arthouse business. Their sudden jump into Competition raised considerable hopes for “Rosetta,” which are partly fulfilled thanks to actress Emilie Dequenne’s perf. But the film’s visual style and paucity of dry, offbeat humor prove so different from “The Promise” that “Rosetta” is almost a new beginning rather than a natural development from previous pic’s style and content.

Popular on Variety

Movie abruptly starts with the camera frantically following Rosetta (Dequenne) as she’s forcibly ejected from a job for some unexplained reason. Rosetta lives in a trailer park with her alcoholic mother (Anne Yernaux), who has occasional sex with the park’s janitor when she’s not out cold in the trailer; between trying to care for her mom, Rosetta is constantly on the move, scurrying hither and yon, as she searches for a job, scavenges for food, and sells off clothes to earn a few extra francs. She seemingly has no friends or other relatives.

A ray of hope in her restless, head-scarcely-above-water existence appears in the form of Riquet (Fabrizio Rongione), who runs a street food stand selling hot waffles; he offers her a place to live and — in the only scene that recalls some of the dry humor of “The Promise” — makes vaguely romantic approaches to her over a meager meal in his grungy apartment. Rosetta gets a bad attack of her recurrent stomach cramps and ankles precipitously — but then returns for something she’s forgotten and asks to sleep over (platonically).

Thanks to Riquet, Rosetta finally gets a job at the bakery, but then is suddenly replaced under a flimsy excuse by the boss (Olivier Gourmet). Determined to get a job at any cost, she ends up betraying the trust and friendliness of Riquet, who’s been quietly cheating the bakery’s owner.

Pic undoubtedly has some powerful moments, mostly centered on scenes in which Rosetta, with whom the audience is expected to sympathize, behaves in shockingly self-protective ways. When Riquet is drowning in a river after trying to help her, she pauses for an agonizing time before deciding to save him; and when she calculatingly betrays him to his boss, she even turns up to face him as he’s fired on the spot.

But the setting of the movie — overcast, wintry urban landscapes, muddy fields and so on — and the antsy visual style — handheld camerawork following her around, often from behind — will turn off many viewers, and the Dardennes pull no dramatic rabbits out of a hat at the end to put any kind of twist or transfiguration on the material.

What the movie does have is a striking perf by 18-year-old non-pro Dequenne who, in her stocky determination, recalls Hungarian actress Lili Monori, working-class heroine of several classic Marta Meszaros movies (“Nine Months”) some 20 years ago. In the handful of pic’s quieter moments, she also shows the makings of an actress beyond the sheer physical parameters of her role. Rongione is simply OK, and other perfs are standard and fleeting.

Rosetta

(DRAMA -- BELGIAN-FRENCH)

Production: A USA Films release (in U.S.) release of a Les Films du Fleuve, RTBF (Belgium)/ARP Selection (France) production. (International sales: ARP, Paris.) Produced by Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Michele and Laurent Petin. Directed, written by Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne.

Crew: Camera (color), Alain Marcoen; editor, Marie-Helene Dozo; art director, Igor Gabriel; costumes, Monic Parelle; sound (Dolby), Jean-Pierre Duret, Thomas Gauder; associate producer, Arlette Zylberberg; assistant director, Bernard Garaut. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (competing), May 22, 1999. Running time: 95 MIN.

With: Rosetta ..... Emilie Dequenne Riquet..... Fabrizio Rongione Rosetta's mother..... Anne Yernaux Boss ..... Olivier Gourmet

More Film

  • Wasp Network

    Netflix Scoops Olivier Assayas's 'Wasp Network' With Penelope Cruz, Edgar Ramirez (EXCLUSIVE)

    Netflix has acquired U.S. rights and several other territories for Olivier Assayas’ “Wasp Network,” the Cuban spy thriller headlined by Penelope Cruz and Edgar Ramirez which world premiered at Venice last year, Variety has learned. The streaming giant is believed to have bought international rights to the film outside of China, Eastern Europe, Greece, Portugal, [...]

  • Octavia Spencer PGA Visionary Award

    Octavia Spencer Faced a Hard Fight to Gain Traction in Hollywood

    Octavia Spencer never believed she would be in front of the camera. Instead, she always saw herself as a producer. Her award-winning performances in movies such as “The Help,” “Hidden Figures” and “The Shape of Water” helped Spencer, recipient of the Visionary Award at the PGA Awards this year, to do both. But getting traction [...]

  • Jeremy Kleiner Dede Gardner Brad Pitt

    Brad Pitt's Production Banner Plan B Relies on Creative Diversity

    “For a long time people tried to figure out ‘What is Plan B?’” says Plan B principal Dede Gardner, who along with fellow executives Jeremy Kleiner and Brad Pitt will receive the David O. Selznick Award at the 31st annual Producers Guild Awards on Jan. 18. “I remember Brad came to us the year that [...]

  • Allison Janney and Viola Davis appear

    Film Review: 'Troop Zero'

    You’ve probably seen a version of “Troop Zero” before. Whether that version was called “Troop Beverly Hills,” “The Mighty Ducks,” or an edited-for-TV showing of “The Bad News Bears,” it’s unlikely that anything here will be particularly fresh to anyone but the youngest of viewers. But novelty does not appear to have been high on [...]

  • Cast of 'Black Panther'25th Annual Screen

    Peers Honoring Peers: What Makes SAG Awards Special

    The 26th annual SAG Awards will be held Jan. 19 at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles and broadcast live on both TNT and TBS at 8 p.m. EST. The SAG Awards are different from typical awards ceremonies for a number of reasons — beginning with length. The show, which comes in at two hours, [...]

  • Ted Sarandos Milestone Award PGA

    Netflix Leader Ted Sarandos Plans Broader Creative Push for the Future

    Ted Sarandos, who has helped to upend the way audiences receive and consume entertainment as Netflix’s chief content officer, will be honored with the Milestone Award at the 31st annual Producers Guild Awards on Jan. 18. Game-changers including Steven Spielberg, Sherry Lansing, Robert Iger, Jeffrey Katzenberg and Ron Meyer have previously received the recognition, and [...]

  • PGA co-presidents Gail Berman and Lucy

    Producers Guild Program Combating Sexual Harassment Kicks Into High Gear

    Producers Guild co-presidents Gail Berman and Lucy Fisher are headed to the org’s annual awards celebration Jan. 18 with a big accomplishment under their respective belts: its anti-harassment program kicked into high gear in 2019, providing free training to 350 people in six months. The Independent Production Safety Initiative (IPSI), established in late 2018, is [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content