Rosetta

The surprise Palme D'Or winner at this year's Cannes Film Festival, Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne's Rosetta boasts a piercing clarity of style and purpose that must have appealed to David Cronenberg and his contrarian jury, which also rewarded Bruno Dumont's similarly pure but impenetrable L'Humanite. Though much more severe in its jittery handheld camerawork and commitment to social realism, Rosetta sacrifices some of the rich dimension and heart of the brothers' superior breakthrough, La Promesse. But they do coax a memorably tenacious performance from non-actor Émilie Dequenne, who plays the desperate title character with such single-minded determination, she deflects all the easy sentiment and pity that's usually heaped on the underclass. Scrounging for menial labor in the bleak industrial wasteland of Seraing, Belgium, Dequenne literally fights for survival, assaulting her startled bosses to keep from losing her job. The Dardennes routinize her behavior to such a rigid degree that she's almost like a caged animal, covering the same narrow space between the city and her trailer-park home, where she tends to her helpless, alcoholic mother (Anne Yernaux). A young waffle vendor (Fabrizio Rongione) provides a brief distraction—in the film's best scene, he impresses her with a recording of his hilariously awful drum solos—but romance is the least of her priorities. In its efforts to expose social ills, Rosetta goes to impressive lengths to be as uncontrived and as far from didactic as possible, coming about as close as a fiction film can to being an anthropological study. Fortunately, the Dardennes have found an instinctive and fascinating new screen presence in the wild-eyed, irrepressible Duquenne, who shoulders the film to a poignant conclusion.

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