Tuesday, June 11, 2024

ROSETTA (Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne, 1999, France/Belgium)


Rosetta is a young girl, whose plight translates into all languages, a child forced into the role of parent and survivor. Rosetta is a cipher for Bresson’s tragic heroine Mouchette, another child branded and birthed into a tortured existence and who discovers only one way out to end the suffering.

The Dardenne Brothers capture Rosetta’s reality unadulterated, a Direct Cinematic technique that presents truth unfiltered from standard form and function of the medium, a style that both transcends the limitations of documentary filmmaking and the boundaries of narrative fiction. Rosetta is trapped in medium close-up, her world pillar boxed to a suffocating ratio. She is always moving quickly, running to stand still, demanding her chance at a normal life in a world of injustice. The Dardenne Brothers often film her from behind or over her shoulder, eschewing all establishing shots or narrative revelation. They are focused upon Rosetta’s actions and not her perceptions. For example, when she is filling up a tub early in the film, she sees something on the ground. Typically, the cut would be to the item on the ground then back to Rosetta, to link the item with discovery: to see what the protagonist sees. But here, the camera remains focused entirely upon Rosetta and even when she picks the item up we are not allowed explanation. It’s not until she confronts her mother that we discover what the item is: a cork from a wine bottle. The camera follows closely, a fluid perspective that fails to judge Rosetta and the people around her, revealing the world without recreating it. There is no soundtrack or musical queues to evoke an emotional response, only humane pathos. It’s a subtle illusion and it’s the trickery of cinema that relates a story need not have happened to be true.

Rosetta chases hope like quicksilver but is stuck in the clinging mud of despair. She has become parent to an alcoholic mother; Rosetta is too old for her age. Her perception of a normal life is to work full time, to become self-sufficient and not rely on the kindness of strangers or public assistance. She is prideful and resourceful, walking her secret path every day, a survivor who is spared pity. But even this young woman has her limits.

Rosetta becomes so desperate for a job that she almost lets a boy drown in order to be hired in his place, but she grabs a stick and pulls him from the pond. But then she gets the boy fired by revealing his petty theft and is hired in his place. She seems happy at first but soon decides to terminate more than just her employment. And it’s this boy who curses Rosetta, who shows up at her home to confront her, who ends up making the difference, who exchanges anger with mercy when he offers his hand and lifts her up. And we end on Rosetta, looking off-screen and crying that we feel a faint glimmer of hope.

Final Grade: (A)