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Film Review: ‘Rosita’

A compelling humanist drama about a Filipino mail-order bride in a small Danish fishing village

rosita
Courtesy of TrustNordisk

A lonely, middle-aged widower in a small fishing village arranges for a young Filipino to come to Denmark as his fiancee, but gets more than he bargains for when his adult son falls for his prospective bride in “Rosita,” a compelling humanist drama from the talented Danish helmer Frederikke Aspock (“Labrador”). Modest but punching far above its weight in terms of emotional connection, this naturalistically shot tale about unspoken expectations and unreciprocated dreams boasts fine acting and credible scripting, creating equal sympathy for all three leads. Cinematheque and broadcast programmers should take note of this popular fest item, which nabbed the best director prize at the Moscow Film Festival.

The action is set on Denmark’s windswept north Jutland peninsula, in a rural hamlet where fish dominates the local economy and drinking is the main source of entertainment. It’s a place where the men are stoic and emotions rarely run high, apart from the occasional bar fight. Young people unwilling or unable to work in the local economy leave town, and marriageable women are few.

Shy widower Ulrik (Jens Albinus, heartbreaking) works in the fish factory and shares his home with his restless younger son, Johannes, a fisherman. (Mikkel Boe Folsgaard, so great in “A Royal Affair” and equally fine here), a fisherman. His elder son, Allan (Mads Riisom), also works at the factory and has a pregnant wife. Ulrik misses the love and tenderness of a woman, so just as several other men in the village have done before him, he allows a colleague’s Filipino wife to import one of her compatriots. His sons, who knew nothing of his plan, are shocked and skeptical.

When spunky Rosita (the achingly lovely Mercedes Cabral, a favorite of Filipino helmer Brillante Mendoza) arrives, she knows only a word or two of Danish. Her second language is English, which Ulrik does not speak, so Johannes is reluctantly forced to act as his father’s translator. To their surprise, the two younger people form an easy bond, and soon Rosita has more than one secret she is keeping from Ulrik.

The screenplay by the prolific Kim Fupz Aakeson (“In Order of Disappearance”) is full of fine-grained character details that helmer Aspock sensitively translates into closely observed but near-wordless actions. For example, the bravura opening sequence, in which Johannes and his sometime-girlfriend Maja (Julie Agnete Vang, poignant) have sex in the bathroom of a bar, epitomizes their different expectations about their relationship.

As befits a film about tight-lipped men and a woman who doesn’t speak Danish, what dialogue there is feels terse and to the point, but always conscious of the perils, misunderstanding and humor inherent in translation. Given that the film is character-driven rather than dialogue-driven, Aspock and the actors have more opportunity to show their chops in the naturalistic action, from the authentically awkward-feeling scenes of Ulrik and Rosita in bed, to the music- and laughter-filled gatherings of the Filipino wives (with actual “mail-order brides” playing cameo roles), to the competiveness between Ulrik and Johannes, which plays out physically in a sports match and later with fists.

D.p. Adam Wallensten’s docu-like lensing leads the all pro-tech package, in which the smell of fish and ocean spray is practically palpable.

Film Review: ‘Rosita’

Reviewed at Gothenburg Film Festival (Nordic Light), Feb. 5, 2016. Running time: <strong>95 MIN.</strong>

  • Production: (Denmark) A Nordisk Film Biografdistribution (in Denmark) release of a TrustNordisk production in co-production with Radiator Film with the support of Danish Film Institute, Den Vestdanske Filmpulje, Hjorring Kommune, in collaboration with TV2 Denmark. (International sales: TrustNordisk, Hvidovre, Denmark.) Produced by Thomas Heinesen, Leila Vestgaard. Executive producers, Henrik Zein, Lena Haugaard.
  • Crew: Directed by Frederikke Aspock. Screenwriter, Kim Fupz Aakeson. Camera (color, HD), Adam Wallensten; editors, Martin Schade, Mette Zeruneith; music, Rasmus Bille Bahncke; production designers, Rie Lykke, Jacob Wirth Carlsen; costume designer, Sussie Bjornvad; sound (5.1), Jonas Langkilde.
  • With: Mikkel Boe Folsgaard, Mercedes Cabral, Jens Albinus, Julie Agnete Vang, Mads Riisom. (Danish, English, Tagalog dialogue)
  • Music By: