Winner of the Palm d’Or at the 1999 Cannes Film Festival, this slice of neo-realism from Belgian filmmakers Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne (La Promesse) is a psychologically acute profile of an impoverished teenager obsessed with leading what she thinks of as a “normal life.”
Rosetta (Emilie Dequenne) is a 17-year-old Belgian girl who lives on the fringe of society with her alcoholic mother in a seedy trailer park. Resourceful, determined and proud, Rosetta is really the head of the household – she makes sure the bills are paid and scolds her mother for her excessive drinking and sleazy boyfriend – but they’re just scraping by.
Rosetta poaches fish from a nearby river and resells the damaged clothes her mother repairs, but what she really wants is a steady job, the first step toward leading an ordinary life.
An opportunity arises after Rosetta makes the acquaintance of Riquet (Fabrizio Rongione), a waffle vendor who mistakes her job envy for a more friendly interest. He arranges to have his boss hire Rosetta as a baker, and for a while, she’s happy; she even lets her guard down long enough to smile.
But when her new career suddenly looks like its coming to an end, Rosetta takes action and finds herself betraying the only source of kindness in her dreary life.
Dequenne is a startlingly physical actress (her debut performance here won her the Best Actress Award at Cannes, an honor she shared with Severine Caneele) who gives an almost animalistic quality to Rosetta’s anger and desperation.
Alain Marcoen’s camera focuses so tightly on her that at times we only glimpse her immediate surroundings. What we do see is far more important: the effect the environment has on Rosetta. And in the complete absence of soundtrack music, Rosetta’s every grunt and pant is amplified; her struggle and her despair become deafening.
– Ken Fox