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La Promesse, Rosetta, The Son, L'Enfant

La Promesse, 1996
[The Promise]

Renier/OuedraogoThere is a childlike euphoria that comes over Igor's (Jeremie Renier) face as he and his friends run a noisy, traffic-impeding go-cart down the busy city streets. But Igor is far from the image of a naive innocent oblivious to the ways of the world. At the age of fifteen, he has left school, works as an apprentice at a service station, and assists his father, Roger (Olivier Gourmet), in running an illegal immigrant smuggling, housing, and construction racket. The film opens to a revealing portrait of the underhanded, opportunistic Igor as he steals an elderly woman's wallet under the pretense of fixing her car, and then sends her away on a fruitless trip to recover the missing item. After taking the money, he buries the wallet behind the shop, and casually returns to the garage where he is learning how to weld. His halfhearted attempt at an honest vocation is again cut short, this time, by the sound of Roger's car horn, impatiently summoning him to help "process" the latest group of illegal immigrants: collecting their passports in order to forge residence and working papers; renting out cramped and unsanitary rooms in a dilapidated tenement for exorbitant fees; hiring them to work for substandard wages at his construction business. Among the group is a woman named Assita (Assita Ouedraogo) who, along with her baby, has come to Belgium in order to join her husband Amidou (Rasmane Ouedraogo). However, their reunion would prove to be short-lived. After receiving a telephone call that officials are scheduled to conduct an inspection at their worksite, Igor leaves the service station in order to outrun the authorities and send the workers away. In his haste, Amidou is critically injured when he falls from the scaffolding, and, in his final words to Igor, asks the young man to look after his wife and child. Fearing prosecution, Roger ignores Igor's pleas to take Amidou to the hospital for proper medical attention and instead, covers his body with canvas and leaves him to die. As Roger then plots to send Assita away and figuratively bury the memory of their shameful complicity, Igor finds his allegiance tested between his devotion to his father, and his promise to a dying man.

Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne create a caustic, poignant, and harrowing portrait of maturity, accountability, and sense of duty in La Promesse. Shot in natural environment using cinema-verite styled camerawork, the jarring, visually unpolished appearance of the film reflects the raw, emotionally honest, and often disturbing examination of the dehumanizing plight of illegal immigrants, and a young man's evolution towards compassion and acceptance of personal responsibility. As Igor hands over the keys to his beloved go-cart to a friend, he not only relinquishes the vestiges of his childhood, but also accepts the consequences of his culpability. Inevitably, it is this triumph of the conscience - the courage to show humanity in the face of intolerance and cruelty - that redeems his misguided life.

© Acquarello 2001. All rights reserved.

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Rosetta, 1999

>DequenneThe film opens with a chaotic scene: Rosetta (Emilie Dequenne), dismissed from her station after her employment trial period has elapsed, refuses to leave the factory, and is escorted off the premises by security guards. Shot through a handheld camera, the confusion seems to continue as we follow Rosetta as she crosses a busy intersection, makes her way through the woods, changes into her water-repellent boots that she hides in an exposed concrete pipe, and returns to her rented trailer home that she shares with her alcoholic mother (Anne Yernaux). It is a bleak life, and one that she desperately wants to escape. If she could only find a job. But Rosetta is a resourceful young woman, and remains undeterred by the latest setback. She returns to town with a bagful of repaired clothes to be sold to the local thrift store, and canvasses local merchants for job openings. Riquet (Fabrizio Rongione), a waffle vendor, takes interest in Rosetta, and when the food preparer is fired for absenteeism, he encourages her to apply. However, the job proves temporary as well, as the owner (Olivier Gourmet) is compelled to hire his own son. Without any new prospects, she sacrifices her friendship with Riquet to obtain a job.

Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne create an eviscerating, poignant, and unsettling portrait of poverty and survival in Rosetta. The jarring motion, quick panning, and unstable camerawork contribute to the film's pervasive sense of transience and uncertainty. Note the heartbreaking scene where Rosetta is dismissed from her job as a waffle maker. Refusing to surrender a sack of flour, she pleads with the owner: "I want to stay. I want a job, a normal life, like yours." It is an intensely honest moment in the life of the usually dour Rosetta, and we understand her pain. Does a normal life lie in finding a job, or does it merely represent the unattainability of happiness? To Rosetta, the meaning is sadly interchangeable... and inevitably, elusive.

© Acquarello 2000. All rights reserved.

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