Rosetta (1999)

Émilie Dequenne, Fabrizio Rongione, Anne Yernaux, Olivier Gourmet,
Young and impulsive Rosetta lives with her alcoholic mother and, moved by despair, she will do anything to maintain a job.
  • 7.5 /10.0 IMDB Rating:
  • DatePublished:
  • 2018-09-07 Added:
  • Writer:
  • Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne, Director:
  • Laurent Pétin, Michèle Pétin, Producer:


7 / 10

Rosetta Stone

This is one that reels you in slowly. There's no wasted exposition. Like Clifford Odets 'Rocket To The Moon' we open right in the middle of a violent argument. The eponymous heroine is being fired and not taking it lying down. She feels she has a genuine beef but we never learn the real truth. What we DO learn is that Rosetta is, in all except name, a metaphor for the forgotten segment of large industrial societies. I can't speak for Belgium but in England there are thousands of teenagers of both sexes not only without work but not Interested in work so Rosetta, in her zealous, single-minded pursuit of even a menial job is almost too good to be true. The dramatic cards are stacked artfully against her, alcoholic mother, no father, not even a MENTION of a father, primitive home in a caravan park and, most unusual of all, not a SINGLE friend. The hand-held camera is content merely to follow her for long stretches of time punctuated by her enemies for in Rosetta's case every encounter is a battle. It remains an extraordinary chronicle with an extraordinary central performance.

7 / 10

It's good, I guess.

Always hard to say something about these sort of movies, since they are being so simple in its setup and you can really hardly go wrong with these type of movies. And this one is good within its genre, though I can't say that it's being the most involving and interesting movie to watch.

You could say that this movie is being like a random slice of life and it's following a young woman around, who is struggling to keep a steady job. There of course is a whole lot of other drama going on as well, also involving a romantic plot.

In the end it also still is a movie that leaves more questions than answers. The movie isn't all about explaining everything to you and tells you what happens after certain events and perhaps more importantly; why. It's OK to feature such an approach, especially for a movie of this sort but in this case I would had preferred some more depth and explanations, to get me more involved with its story and characters.

That was also a big problem for me; I just couldn't ever like or understand the movie its main character. She obviously has some kind of issues and is socially very awkward. Not really a likable person, you want to hang around with, which also makes her not all that great and involving to follow around, in my opinion.

But still as these sort of movies go, I really can't call it a bad one. It never bores and it never drags at any point, though this is obviously a slower type of movie, in which not an awful lot is going on, all the time. It's perhaps not a very engaging movie but it still remains an interesting one, also mostly because it never really gets predictable.

Certainly watchable, especially when you are into these type of movies.


9 / 10

Tough call

I can say I definitely did not like _Rosetta_. And I'm not saying that I didn't enjoy it. What, are you kidding? This movie is impossible to enjoy. I mean that I did not find it successful.

It's the kind of movie that only exists to challenge its audience. I may not have been entirely up to that challenge. Watching a Dogma 95 film on four hours sleep and ten hours work was certainly not the best idea I've ever had. But I was certainly not the only one who felt that the final product was kind of a dud. I saw it in a theater with at least 90 other people, and there were a lot of moans and groans being uttered during the last ten minutes. And this wasn't just from a couple of people who may have accidentally wandered in an art theater by accident.

Here are my complaints: a film like this has to be saying something, and, in order to work, it has to make me think about the world around me, especially regarding our old friend, the Human Condition. _Rosetta_ only made me think about how exactly the film failed.

Basically the moral of the movie is: life sucks. It never questions why life sucks. Its conclusion, as far as I can tell, is that it just does. The major obstruction that arose in my mind during it were obvious similarities in theme, style, and character to The Dreamlife of Angles, which I regard as one of the best films of the 1990s. They are both about young women living in the lowlands (_Rosetta_ takes place in Belgium, _Dreamlife_ in Lille, France) who desperately need jobs to live, jobs which are extremely hard to come by. _Dreamlife_ has an edge over _Rosetta_, though. It shows us two different perspectives of this sort of life. One of the two main characters of that film cannot handle the life of poverty, whereas the other finds ways to deal with it. Their characters are well drawn, and we care about them. Heck, I think there are no other two characters from the 1990s (besides maybe Ben and Sera from Leaving Las Vegas) whom I know and love more.

Most of _Rosetta_ is just the camera operator following Rosetta as she stomps all over town. She has a personality, but it doesn't go to far. She lives to survive, if that even makes any sense. All of her personality traits arise from a very survival of the fittest attitude (and Rosetta knows that she is not the fittest). This is realistic, to be sure, but it is very hard to care for her. She is so closed off to the world that I could not care all that much about her. If you met her on the street and said hello, I would guess that she would punch you. But look at the bitter woman from _Dreamlife_. Her character generally resides in her bitterness, but she has extra depth. As people usually are when they are bitter, she is very vulnerable and is bitter to, at least partly, keep people from knowing her. Thus, I cared much for her, and I wept profusely for her all throughout the film. Rosetta did not make me feel a thing about her.

But here is what I like: While I may not have been the least bit compelled by the character Rosetta, the actress playing her was great. This seems paradoxical, but I'll try to explain it. The character as written by the screenwriter has little depth. But there is some depth, and all of it comes from the actress. Her constant stomping leaves her mainly with a sharp frown, but the scenes where she is actually doing something, that actress is amazing. Her face is very expressive, even though the directors seem not to have wanted her to use her facial repertoire during most of the film. There were a couple of scenes which elevated the film for brief periods. There are two very painful scenes where Rosetta tries to stay at her current job. And the very ending, while I was quite disappointed in what the plot was doing with the characters, shows us one of the saddest faces ever filmed.

I would never suggest that anyone watch this film, but in the future, if this actress gains any of the fame which she deserves, you may want to hunt this film down. You may dislike it, but it is worth seeing it just for her.

So I gave this movie a 7/10, which is a pretty big stretch.

ETA: My original review of this film, written in June of 2000, can be found on IMDb. I am frankly embrassed by it (written at age 21), but I'm not going to erase it. It is, indeed, a harsh movie, one that's very single minded and quite small in its scope. It is, though, an extraordinarily powerful film that I thoroughly loved this time around. Emilie Dequenne just floors me. I like a couple of Dardennes films more, but her performance may be the best thing they've ever captured. 9/10.

5 / 10

This is, perhaps, one of the worst movies I ever enjoyed.

The film Rosetta is superficially the equivalent of a bad high school documentary class project. However, if you project your emotions with as much energy as those who projected Rosetta's face (you'll get to know every pore) on the silver screen, perhaps you'll enjoy this austere look at the determination of a young French woman. If there is anything extraordinary about this film, it is the accolades which it received.

7 / 10

admirable but flawed film

Those who were made queasy by the corybantic visual style of `The Blair Witch Project' had best have an air sickness bag handy for `Rosetta,' a film whose nonstop bobbing-and-weaving camera technique makes `Blair Witch' seem positively staid in comparison.

`Rosetta' won a best actress award at the 1999 Cannes Film Festival for the stunning performance of Emilie Dequenne in the leading role. It is safe to say that, not only is this fine actress present in virtually every frame of this 95-minute film, but the camera always seems to be shoved to within six inches of her face. This technique, which shatters the illusion of privacy we all like to feel we have in our lives, is obviously designed to make the audience become more fully a part of Rosetta's drearily dysfunctional world and life. And dreary it is as we follow her through her daily and seemingly insurmountable struggles to maintain employment, to cope with a slovenly alcoholic mother and to eke out some sort of respectable life without having to resort to either crime or welfare. Yet, the most admirable aspect of the film is the way in which it refuses to sentimentalize the character one iota to make her more palatable to the audience. Even though at one point we see her having a schizophrenic pep talk with herself as she is falling asleep ? convincing herself that she will one day be able to lead a `normal life' ? Rosetta is so emotionally cut off from the world and the people around her that we actually begin to question her mental health at times. Even at the moments of greatest potential tenderness ? i.e. a scene in which a young man tries to teach her to dance -she never once cracks a smile. Life for her has become a joyless chore that she must somehow get through, even though continued existence only brings the promise of more days like it. We sense that Rosetta is not a `bad' person (she obviously both loves and hates her mother at the same time). She has simply been driven to acts of desperation by the exigencies of her bitter life. Indeed, the single most admirable aspect of the character from a dramatic standpoint is her least admirable from a humanistic one. She is so desperate for a job that she cruelly betrays, without a single qualm or moment's hesitation, the one person in the film who has ever reached out to her as either a helper or a friend. This is a gutsy tack on the part of the filmmakers, as is the open-ended, inconclusive ending. Wisely, the moviemakers know that, in a film whose very essence is raw-boned truth, a phony ending ? either too upbeat or too melodramatic ? would violate the spirit of the enterprise. The filmmakers ? Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne wrote and directed it - also demonstrate the utter faith they have in their material by allowing the action of the film to unfold completely without the benefit of background music of any kind. Indeed, in another sign of cinematic bravery, much of the running time of the film is actually spent merely observing and recording `activity,' much of it the dreary day-to-day drudgery of Rosetta's chore-filled life.

For all its undeniable virtues, `Rosetta' might have had more impact had it been made 40 or 50 years ago. Back in that era, cinema-verite first emerged as a fresh and exciting antithesis to the bland slickness of commercial moviemaking ? via filmic movements such as Italian Neorealism and the New Waves of nations like France and Czechoslovakia. Now, with that style having been done to death by filmmakers from all over the world, the hand-held camera acrobatics of films like `Rosetta' serve more as a distraction and distancing device than the approximation of reality that the filmmakers seem to want to capture. Do we really see the world in this jumbled, bouncy way or does this camera-conscious style, paradoxically, achieve the unintended effect of actually heightening the artificiality of the film experience? `Rosetta' could have retained its admirable tone of uncompromising objectivity and still emerged as a more potent, powerful and moving film by toning down the visual style somewhat. Rosetta's personality and life are interesting enough without all this visual flamboyance. We find ourselves wanting to step back and observe this intriguing world from a fuller, more comprehensive vantage point. Still, this hectic, claustrophobic style may be just what the artists need to crystallize the desperation of poor Rosetta's mental and emotional plight. `Rosetta' is, certainly, a fine, brave and intriguing film experience; it just might have had a bit more impact filmed in a different way.