Rosetta (Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne, 1999)
Midway through the film, Rosetta (Émilie Dequenne) recites a personal prayer before heading to bed. Previous to that, she was befriended by a waffle stand salesperson (Fabrizio Rongione) who takes her in into his apartment; feeding her French waffles; allowing her to listen to his amateur drum recordings; and teaches her (although quite unsuccessfully) to dance. It is that state of normalcy that Rosetta has longed for --- to live in an urban flat, instead of the trailer camp where she and her mother resides in; to have a normal relationship with a concerned friend, instead of keeping every bit of concern alone; to have a stable job, instead of spending days getting fired and subsequently looking for employment in vain. Her prayer is like a routinary mantra that keeps her surviving through the inequality of society, but like most prayers or mottos, fails to materialize.
The following day, Rosetta is replaced in her work by her employer's lazy son. Her life falls once again in that perpetual limbo of uncertainty; and the only thing stable are the little peculiarities that surround her everyday life. Her daily breakfast of waffles and tap water, her shortcuts through the forest that surrounds her trailer camp, her daily means of catching fishes through a home-made fish trap, her eternal suffering because of stomach cramps made bearable by home-made cures of a pill and a glass of water and the sound and vibrations of a hair dryer --- these are the things that characterize Rosetta aside from the fact that she's in a continuous state of rage and discontent.
Rosetta is the second film made by the Dardenne Brothers and their first film to win the much-coveted Golden Palm in the 1999 Cannes Film Festival. It is uncompromising and bleak. The camera mostly focuses on the face of the titular character; concentrating the viewers' attention to the nuances of Dequenne's performance. From the first scene when we see her storming along the hallway to the factory where she confronts a co-worker and her boss on her being fired, we immediately sense desperation and fear. It certainly feels that employment for Rosetta is her state of normalcy, her proof of humanity. Without it, she is drowned with her mundane yet unique routines and her larger-than-life domestic problems, including taking care of her alcoholic mom who succumbs to whoring herself for a few bottles of alcohol.
The pervading atmosphere of desperation and futility overcomes the entire film, that the moments wherein Rosetta allows herself a momentary feeling of glee, sadness, or any other emotion other than anger feels rather awkward. It is that misogynistic quality of the Dardenne Brothers' film which I dislike. It is that quality that purposely limits the titular character to situations of suffering and cutthroat moral choices that strips any sense of lingering humanity to the film, and thus gives the final product an unlikable aftertaste despite its redeeming social commentaries on unemployment and inequality. We only see Rosetta as an unwavering force of negative energy, irreversible yet depletable; never as a human being with valid needs and a bevy of emotions.
Imprisoned by poverty, Rosetta's fate seems trapped in her earthbound hell. The Dardenne Brothers play their cruellest trick on their heroine by preventing her from escaping that prison through the easiest way out. The final few minutes of the film seemed taken out of a magician's hat; wherein the desperation that pervades and fluctuates undramatically is concluded by a final act of futility, only to be stopped by their own poverty (the gas tank becomes empty before completely suffocating her and her mother). She purchases a new gas tank from the camp caretaker and carries it off to her trailer. Her former friend, consumed by anger because of her treachery, makes her task even more difficult by covering her path with his motorcycle. She gives up, falls on her knees and cries, with the final scene showing her former friend picking her up from that defeated stance.
The question arises as to the directors' motives. They create a character who has fallen from grace because of her poverty and her family's state in life, only to experiment with her or toy with her by enlarging her burden. That final scene where Rosetta finally cries and whimpers concludes the experiment, pleasing the directors curiosity as to the limits of Rosetta's conditions --- when will she succumb to the fact that even death has given up on her, when can we truly say that she's fallen and needs a helping hand to rise again? That also concludes my appreciation for the film as that moment has assured me that the Dardennes Brothers have inflicted on me an imaginary concern for their experimentation, rather than genuine pathos for a human individual.