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Rosetta (rewatch)

Posted by martinteller on August 25, 2012

I believe you could develop an entire ethics course around the Dardennes’ last six films… and it’s possible you could get a full semester out of Rosetta alone.  Throughout the movie, you’re watching a young woman’s moral code develop before your eyes.  Rosetta lives in poverty, but she does not steal, she does not cheat, she does not take charity.  Instead, she is desperately trying to secure a job… or desperately trying to keep one, as in the startling opening scene as she animalistically resists getting fired, a frantic flurry of action that cannot possibly pay off.  She is obsessively determined not only to survive, but to do it without violating her own code of ethics. 

The pivotal moment in the film is a complex one.  Although the action Rosetta takes is in line with her rigid sense of honesty, it’s also clearly a desperation move, and one that will take its toll.  There are difficult decisions to face in her quest to achieve a “normal life”, and it involves a slippery balance of morality and self-interest.

Émilie Dequenne, in her film debut, turns in a remarkable performance.  It’s a demanding role.  There isn’t a scene that doesn’t directly involve Rosetta, indeed there’s barely a frame that she doesn’t loom large in.  The camera follows her relentlessly, letting her dictate the flow.  Her face registers an array of thought and emotion, though rarely happiness… the only time you ever see her smile is when she’s working.  Rarely does a film allow you or invite you to so deeply explore a character.  She’s remarkably resourceful and self-sufficient, and the specificity of her actions indicates a long-established routine, finely honed with experience for maximum survival efficiency.  And it’s immediately apparent that despite her young age, she’s been taking care of her mother for years.  She’s not wholly likable, nor does she need to be.

I (and undoubtedly others) have compared this film to Bresson’s Mouchette.  I dare say this is the better of the two, with a richer verisimilitude and fewer appeals to the viewer’s sense of pity.  And although it makes for bleak commentary on unfortunate economic realities (oh, how we middle-class often take our jobs for granted) it ends with the possibility of personal growth and transformation.  A wonderful film, still my favorite by the Dardennes.  Rating: Great (93)


4 Responses to “Rosetta (rewatch)”

  1. kevlarcardhouse said

    Oh, that pivotal moment – after what had come before, it worked so well for me. My gut reaction was to think less of her, even though I could see myself doing the exact same thing in those circumstances.

  2. […] 172. Rosetta (1999, Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne) […]

  3. […] 69. Rosetta (1999, Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne) […]

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