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    Life is not beautiful

    "Rosetta," which won two top awards at Cannes, uncompromisingly follows a young woman's struggle for a "normal life" that we doubt she can ever have.


    "Rosetta," which won the best-film and best-actress prizes at Cannes, follows a young, desperately poor woman in her daily — hourly — struggle to keep herself and her chronically depressed mother (Anne Yernaux) alive. The handheld camera stays tightly focused on the constantly moving Rosetta (18-year-old Emilie Dequenne) as she hunts for a job, peddles secondhand clothing, catches fish in makeshift traps in the river, cooks for her mother, and tries to get and keep a job. We're reminded just how much work it takes to be poor and given a glimpse into this constantly struggling woman's psyche.

    Written and directed by: Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne.
    Cast: Emilie Dequenne, Anne Yarneau, Fabrizio Rongione, Olivier Gourmet.
    In French with English subtitles.
    Rosetta's most revealing moment comes as she's been given a job at a waffle stand (a common sight in Belgium, where the film takes place), and had a date, of sorts, with a kindhearted co-worker (Fabrizio Rongione). Going to sleep under a blanket on his floor, she tells herself, "I found a job. I found a friend. I have a normal life."

    Other times, we see her becoming increasingly antisocial, like her mother, as the daily struggle dominates her awareness, and we can see this moment of self-satisfaction for what it really is — an unspoken realization that she is not having a normal life at all. She doesn't even know how.

    By morning, she's off again on a frantic, tight-focus race through life that would resemble "Run Lola Run" if this movie had any style. It doesn't. Rosetta's town (Seraing) is gritty, gray, post-industrial, and the film makes no attempt to show it any nicer than it is. Some viewers (including a few who walked out when I saw the movie) are going to find the subject too grim and the production too stark — but that's the idea.

    The French, who gave us the idea of cinéma vérité, have specialized in recent years in a quest for even further realism that leads to uncomfortable-feeling but often extremely moving movies. "Rosetta" joins "Vagabond" ("Sans Toit Ni Loi" in French) and the more recent "Life of Jesus," "Western" and "Dreamlife of Angels" in focusing on the most down-and-out in society in an uncompromising way, following the loosest of narratives and often using non-actors to capture real life on a deeper level. Keep reminding yourself that the things that make "Rosetta" a little bit uncomfortable to watch are the things that make it the most genuine.

    NOVEMBER 27, 1999

    Reader comments on Rosetta:

  • not having a job   from Eddie M, Feb 23, 2004

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