DARDENNE BROTHERS’ “ROSETTA” : A LOOK INTO THE REALITIES OF POVERTY
The film is one of those that require a moment to really sink in.
Since the history of humanity, there have always been people in society who are often left behind. They’re the forgotten people that are rarely thought about when the rich and middle class are going on about their regular days: making their goals to vacation or scheming for their next promotion. Yet all along, when there are discussions about the difficulties of the homeless or the disenfranchised, people believe it’s as simple as getting a job. However, in “Rosetta,” we see that life isn’t fair and easy for everyone.
“Rosetta” is a 1999 Belgian film directed and written by the Dardenne brothers that follows a young girl in a nameless small french town, as she desperately grasps at rare instances of hope so that she can make sure that she doesn’t stay in a rut like her alcoholic mother (Anne Yernaux). Beautifully played by Émilie Dequenne, the film shows how punishing life is for this precocious young girl and it is absolutely distressing to watch.
Rosetta is presumably in her late teens but she’s not going to school or doing regular things that are common among her peers. Instead, she’s tenaciously looking for work to replace her old job at a food plant to eventually escape her destitute conditions with her mom.
Their life is hard. They live in a deteriorating trailer in the middle of nowhere, paying as much as five hundred dollars for rent in a community that seems to have a huge unemployment issue. And so no matter how hard Rosetta tries to find a job, and despite being repeatedly rejected by employers who can’t seem to grasp why she is so firm, she persists. Since she’s adamant about changing her circumstance so that she can experience a normal middle class life — and at least get clean running water — she is vicious about getting a job to shocking ends.
The film is one of those that require a moment to really sink in because at first, the plot is quite puzzling, so it’s hard to understand what’s happening. In particular, in the opening scene, we find Rosetta fighting to keep her job at the food plant, literally punching to stay in her position, but as funny as it first presents, it takes a while to fully realize the seriousness of the situation. Even though she’s still a child, she’s the adult within her household and therefore the breadwinner so, without a job, she’s essentially helpless. So, she has no choice but to fight or give up living. And so, she fights with her mother so that she can maintain her sobriety and again with anyone who threatens her goal of achieving a stable life. This intense drive is actually quite pleasing to watch and it draws you to grow an affection for Rosetta and hope she sees better days.
The film perfectly illustrates the problem with the stigma we force on people to discourage those in need, from seeking government aid and from looking for financial relief. We see this when Rosetta doesn’t want help from anyone unless it’s through what she considers to be “official,” or “respectable” means. This suggests that she will never take welfare, donations, or charities of any kind and the reality is, it makes things unnecessarily tougher for her because in truth, every one gets some form of help to reach success and stability. But her stubborn attitude is authentic to life and the damaging affects of privileged judgement and its ability to cripple a family.
Appropriately, “Rosetta” is one film that will stay with you because of how the Dardenne brothers are able to forge an attachment to her story. As you watch the film, you slowly begin to understand that despite how clever and hard working she is, from birth, she was doomed to an unfavourable story filled with toil because her family is extremely lacking in their finances. It prompts discussions about the value we attach to people with money and the automatic worthlessness and laziness that is wrongly associated with the identity of those who are impoverished. It plainly dispels misguided feelings about poverty and unveils the depressive and realistic parts of life that are often disguised in storytelling. Every part of the movie feels raw, which is perhaps due to the reality TV effect used in the shooting of motion since the movie is largely filmed from the perspective of a camera continuously following Rosetta. It makes for an intensely bleak and intimate experience since we are able to gain the full picture of how difficult Rosetta’s life is over the span of several days. The fact that there is no music or scenic pictures to enhance or distract from the painful story, causes viewers to continue to feel the emptiness and anxious energy in the film as her hardships abound.
The film is special. It forces viewers to really digest what it means to have a dream to aspire to and as perfectly described by James Baldwin, to also consider how expensive it is to be poor. It’s heavily layered and far reaching and remarkably, relatable to the black experience of often feeling as though there are invisible limitations keeping some people from progressing from their conditions unless they are willing to step on others to get up. It’s an eventuality in capitalist societies since they are organized precisely to encourage the advancement of some, while others are left to decline. That “Rosetta” captures this essence and creates room for an understanding of this cycle of exploitation which creates billionaires while the rest of the world are left working tirelessly to live paycheque to paycheque, makes the film even more surprising.
Like “Capernaum,” you have to finish “Rosetta” to fully understand its impact and what the Dardenne brothers intended to say. You need to be prepared to be patient and give the film a chance to really persuade you to feel something, or you might be prompted to give up too early which would be unfortunate. The film is dense with drama and education so you have no choice but to learn something from it.