ROSETTA, the Belgian film that was this year’s Palme d’Or winner, works so successfully at going to the core of a disturbed young woman’s mental state that if you accept it in on its own level it can really get under your skin. Yet, it’s not the kind of film that’s easy to recommend because it’s tough to watch, it’s not particularly enjoyable and the main character is proudly selfish and presented as a severely serious nutcase.The film is about Rosetta, an 18 year-old woman so determined to get a job and find stability in her life that she has become mean, surly and anti-social. She rushes in a fit through her daily routine with a frown and a tough head of steam. Unlike many films with young French speaking actresses, Rosetta is not one you would immediately call beautiful.
Rosetta is played by a tremendously focused Emilie Dequenne who won a much deserved (but notably boo’d by the Cannes elite) best actress at this years Cannes festival. Rosetta lives at the ‘end of the world’ in a muddy trailer park with her alcoholic mother. And she knows that the only way out of this hell is for her to get a good job. Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne -- who’s last film LA PROMESSE was a surprise hit here -- make films with serious moral themes. In LA PROMESSE a son reluctantly turns against his father who is running an illegal business. In ROSETTA the heroine must make an unethical choice concerning her new found friend’s (Fabrizio Rongione) illegal doings.
The cinematic choice in vogue these days is the handheld camera and the Dardennes use it to the fullest extent here. At first the sharp incessant movements are too much but about half way through the film it begins to work very well because it allows us to get closer to Rosetta than we normally would to really see and feel her struggles.One of the other remarkable aspects of ROSETTA is that it features no score telling us how to emotionally react to a scene. Instead the film relies on the acting, the close-ups and the raw, tense situations to effectively achieve its power. The truth of Rosetta’s character is obvious but the filmmakers not only successfully capture the mental state of a lower class woman and her daily struggles they too shrewdly observe the nature and drive of human competitiveness. If Rosetta were rich and working for a corporation there is no question she would be a cut-throat CEO. And other than the performance and the directing style, it’s this truth that makes this movie so scary and so effective.-- Matt Langdon