Doesn’t seem like my kind of thing, as I assumed it wouldn’t be from seeing L’Enfant, but at least on the HD screen at home it’s easier to take their handheld follow-cam asthetic without feeling ill, and at least now I’ve seen both of their Cannes top-prize-winning films and don’t feel like I’m missing something. I get that it’s empathetic filmmaking, and Rosetta shares with their Two Days, One Night lead character a desperate drive to survive (not some huge success, just to keep a simple, steady job) alternating with bouts of depression – both realistic and moving portrayals. But it’s also just dismal enough (ends with Rosetta unable to commit suicide because she runs out of gas) that I felt more bummed out by the scenario than uplifted by the great humanist filmmaking. Admittedly it grows on you after a few days – and now I’m behind on the blog so it’s been a month, and it has definitely stuck with me.
Rosetta lives in a trailer park with her drunk mom, has stomach pains, and is seriously pissed at having lost her job in the opening scene. Soon she takes another girl’s job making waffle batter, loses it almost immediately when the boss decides to hire his son instead, so she rats on her only friend Riquet (who has been selling his own homemade waffles on the sly) and takes his job. Yes, it’s a Belgian movie with a serious emphasis on waffle making. Being stalked by Riquet, she phones in her resignation and goes home to kill herself and her mom, which she hasn’t managed to do by the time Riquet shows up, so I suppose it’s a happy ending?
What makes Rosetta unique, though, is its lead character’s determination to reveal and destroy any hint of surrounding weakness threatening to subvert her singular direction in life. Rosetta would rather risk Riquet physically retaliating against her than be linked to his illegal operation—or die trying to save her mother from the bottle instead of sticking her head in the sand. Both scenarios prove the character’s fundamental need to exist within a state of hardened reality, not soft fantasy.
It doesn’t strive for our sympathy or make any effort to portray Rosetta as colorful, winning or sympathetic. It’s a film of economic determinism, the story of a young woman for whom employment equals happiness. Or so she thinks until she has employment and is no happier, perhaps because that is something she has simply never learned to be.
Rosetta: Émilie Dequenne was later in a Téchiné movie and Brotherhood of the Wolf. Her semi-friend Riquet: Fabrizio Rongione has been in most Dardenne movies since, also La Sapienza. As the waffle boss: Olivier Gourmet, which sounds like a French name I’d make up as a joke, who has been in every Dardenne movie since La Promesse, also Time of the Wolf (not Brotherhood of the Wolf). This won the palme and best actress at Cannes (up against All About My Mother, Pola X, Kikujiro, Ghost Dog) but the Césars preferred Venus Beauty Institute.
The documentaries that we used to make, you go to film a reality that exists outside of you and you don’t have control over it — it resists your camera. You have to take it as it is. So we try to keep that aspect of documentary into our fiction, to film something that resists us … We want to remain on the level of the things as they are and not impose on them.