Rosetta | Chicago Reader

Rosetta

From its opening seconds, this feature from Belgian brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne (La promesse), winner of the Palme d'Or at the 1999 Cannes film festival, has to be the most visceral filmgoing experience of the past year, including all of Hollywood's explosions and special-effects extravaganzas. It concerns the desperate efforts of the 18-year-old title heroine (played by Emilie Dequenne, a remarkable nonprofessional), who lives in a trailer park with her alcoholic mother and suffers from stomach cramps, to find a steady job; she particularly hopes to work at a waffle stand whose current employee has romantic designs on her. This may sound like the grimmest sort of neorealism, but the Dardennes keep the story so ruthlessly unsentimental and physical it would be a disservice to describe it as neo anything. You feel it in your nervous system before you get a chance to reflect on its meaning—it's almost as if the Dardennes were intent on converting an immediate experience of the contemporary world into a breathless theme-park ride—and it makes just about every other form of movie “realism” look like trivial escapism. It's certainly not devoid of psychological nuance either, and it's had such an impact in Belgium that a wage law for teenagers, which passed in November 1999, is known as “the Rosetta plan.” 95 min.

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