Tag: fabrizio rongione


Rosetta (1999)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Shot without distraction or decoration, it is critical that “Rosetta” shows only the truth because its aim is to show a stark portrait of poverty. Its style is so bare, so skeletal and realistic that a handheld shooting style is employed in order for viewers to be placed right in the action as a desperate teenage girl, having just been let go from a temporary position without warning, hunts for a new job. Rosetta is played by Émilie Dequenne and she dominates every frame and devastating moment in the film—an astounding achievement because not only is it her first starring role, it is her first role ever on film.

Writer-directors Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne are masters of showing rather than telling. Instead of relying on dialogue as a tool to explain or acknowledge the hardships of Rosetta’s life, the camera simply follows her day-to-day activities, the frame in focus from the waist up, often shot from behind. We observe the state of her trailer home. The interiors are drained of color and excitement. We notice her alcoholic mother (Anne Yernaux), panic-stricken at the sight of her daughter coming home because she knows that Rosetta is like a bloodhound, always searching for evidence that mother has been drinking yet again.

Lesser filmmakers would likely have made the parent a target of ridicule, someone to judge and blame. Instead, the Dardenne brothers, so focused in their objective of showing a specific lifestyle of a specific life, use the matriarch as a figure of Rosetta’s possible future. Rosetta regards her mother not necessarily with love or pity but a wilting thing that needs to be cared for because she is helpless. She fears she will become her mother if she fails to get “a real job” and live “a normal life.” The dialogue is scant but when utilized, we are made to remember what is expressed and how.

We note Rosetta is always drinking tap water. She rarely eats because there is nothing to eat. But she must quench the hunger somehow. She is prone to abdominal pains so crippling, it is one of the rare moments when we see her react intensely. Despite her discomfort and exhaustion—in body, mind, and spirit—someone in their two-person household must land a job so bills can be paid. The campground manager (Bernard Marbaix) shuts things off without warning when payments are late.

And so off Rosetta goes to ask around if anyone is looking to hire. Many of those she encounters never bother to look her in the eye. But looks or judgment, or lack thereof, do not defeat her. She is used to it, inured by people’s apathy. And when a rare person comes along who appears to genuinely care for her, who likes her in all of her simplicity, this individual (Fabrizio Rongione) is tested. Why should they care for trash like her? We look in Rosetta’s eyes and realize that perhaps trash is exactly how she sees herself sometimes. Still, she remains to have the will to fight, refusing to accept welfare or handouts. She’d rather sell clothes off her back.

Notice how “Rosetta” does not employ soundtrack or score. Nor does it need to. Its music can be heard all around, from the way people move, like during a scuffle with security guards because someone would not leave the premises when asked, and how they feel when they are struck with a discovery, such as coming across one’s unconscious mother exposed outdoors for all the neighbors to see or a when a friend offers a helping hand. The music is ingrained in the every day happenings for the viewers to absorb raw, unfiltered.

Two Days, One Night

Two Days, One Night (2014)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Fourteen out of sixteen employees voted to terminate Sandra (Marion Cotillard) in exchange for a bonus of one thousand euros. But Sandra, who has a history of depression, is getting another chance: Due to a certain piece of information that might have impacted the votes, there will be another election the coming Monday. Over the weekend, she hopes to visit her colleagues and try to persuade them to change their votes.

“Two Days, One Night,” written and directed by Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne, is told with such simplicity and honesty that just about every passing minute commands tension. We follow Sandra from the moment she receives the news about her possible termination until the moment she learns whether she will still have a job. There is no sentimentality. There is only a difficult situation and the person in the middle of it.

Some might wonder whether a situation like the picture presents can or does happen in real life. I didn’t care either way because what is at stake is important. If Sandra gets terminated, she and her husband (Fabrizio Rongione) will not be able to afford the mortgage and so they must rely on some sort of financial assistance to get by. We get a chance to see how their family lives. They are not destitute but we can surmise based on the kind of bedsheets they have, the space of their place, the decorations on the wall, and the like that they are likely to fall somewhere in a lower socioeconomic status. Notice the kind of food that is put on the table for the children.

There are emotional moments and it is a challenge not to be able to empathize. These are shot in an intelligent and mature way. For instance, when Sandra feels like breaking down and crying, her suffering is not front and center. Notice that her body is turned away from the person nearest to her and also away from the camera—as if she is ashamed to be perceived as weak for shedding tears.

Most of the time, Cotillard leaves me cold with her acting because there is something about her that is not easily accessible. Sometimes even I find her to have a whiny undertone. Not here. Sure, she is made to look unglamorous, sporting no makeup, the straps of her bra always visible. But she gives something special. I noticed that Sandra has a real smile and one that she employs to force herself to feel better. Because the filmmaking can be considered minimalist, small things like facial expressions are magnified.

It is difficult to guess whether a particular co-worker will eventually give in to refuse the considerable bonus and allow Sandra to keep her job. This is because the actors who play them come across as real people one might encounter in the street. Because it is a challenge, we look closer. We note the body languages, the tone in the voices, whether there is eye contact. We are engaged.

“Deux jours, une nuit” is the kind of film I look for. It takes a simple premise and we watch the character to sink or swim amongst the challenges thrown at her. The ending, as expected from a Dardenne brothers film, is not only perfectly handled but it also feels exactly right.

Lorna’s Silence

Lorna’s Silence (2008)
★★★ / ★★★★

Lorna (Arta Dobroshi), originally from Albania, makes a deal with a local mobster, Fabio (Fabrizio Rongione), in order to gain citizenship in Belgium. Her dream, once she has the proper identifications, is to move in with her boyfriend (Alban Ukaj) and open a snack bar.

Lorna is assigned by Fabio to marry a drug addict named Claudy (Jérémie Renier). A couple of days after she gains citizenship, Claudy is to be killed. This causes Lorna anxiety but, according to the men around her, it does not matter anyway because Claudy is just a drug addict. Finally, she is to marry a wealthy Russian, Andrei (Anton Yakovlev), who also needs Belgian citizenship. Once Andrei has what he wants, Lorna is free to go on with her life. Naturally, things go wrong.

Written and directed by Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne, “Le silence de Lorna” is a great exercise in mood. I found it curious because we do not start off necessarily liking our protagonist. The way she treats Claudy as he struggles through his addiction is selfish and ugly. She is so detached from him, she cannot even hand him a glass of water when he begs her for one. She feels the need to put the water in a bowl, place it on the floor, and watches him drink it like a dog. As the pattern of their spurious relationship begins to crystallize, I became convinced that I knew exactly where it is headed.

The story takes another direction completely. This is the trickiest and most brilliant part of the screenplay. Because I assumed that I knew where the story is going to go, I was not as vigilant to the signs that hint at the important changes about to unravel. Before I knew it, the Dardennes have led me to a trap and I was suddenly uncertain as to how the characters might deal with the new cards they have been given.

While becoming a Belgian citizen remains to be Lorna’s primary motivation, she begins to consider other possibilities—options that are different from what Fabio has planned for her. Lorna’s inner turmoil between doing the right thing and taking what she wants is compelling to watch. Dobroshi’s androgynous face urges us to look closer because there is an interesting inconsistency between her actions and what is really going on in her mind.

The film is appropriately titled “Lorna’s Silence” because whenever our protagonist is silent in a car, in her apartment, or at work, she is thinking—thinking how she can outsmart Fabio, who seems to be an expert in the business of fake marriages, thinking about her dreams becoming reality, thinking that happiness is only an arm’s length away, and thinking of ways to make everyone happy without taking the life of just another junkie.

Lorna is willing to play dirty with the law but she hopes to come out of the fray unblemished. She may not be likable in the beginning, but the Dardennes have found a way for us to see ourselves in her without a typical character arc. Like Lorna, sometimes we think that if we only strategize a little smarter, we can get away with the repercussions. Life is strange in that it has a funny way of catching up with us eventually.