Belgium/France 1999

Reviewed by Lizzie Francke


Our synopses give away the plot in full, including surprise twists.

aLiège, Belgium, the present. Rosetta, a proud young woman, has just been made redundant. She returns home to the caravan site where she lives to find her alcoholic mother has been turning tricks in exchange for drink.

Determined to find new work, Rosetta asks about vacancies at a local waffle stand run by a young man named Riquet. Later, Riquet turns up at the caravan park to tell her a job is going at the head office. They develop a tentative friendship. She visits him at his bedsit and discovers he's cheating his boss. Her job at the waffle bakery is short lived and she finds herself back on the streets. Riquet offers her a job moonlighting at his stand, but she turns him down as she wants 'proper' employment. She ends up blowing the whistle on Riquet's scam.

The waffle boss gives her Riquet's concession. Rosetta sells waffles, while Riquet loiters near by. After work one night, she finds her mother passed out. Rosetta rings the waffle boss to tell him she won't be coming to work any more. She seals up the windows of the caravan and tries to gas herself, but the gas runs out. Rosetta buys another gas canister from the caravan-park owner. On her way back to the caravan, she is confronted by Riquet.


"Your name is Rosetta. My name is Rosetta. You've found a job. I've found a job. You have a friend. I have a friend. You have a normal life. I have a normal life. You won't fall into the rut. I won't fall into the rut." So runs the desperate mantra of the Dardenne brothers' extraordinary film, its heroine portrayed heartbreakingly by Emilie Dequenne, her feral roughness masking an inner grace. This dialogue of self and soul marks Rosetta out as a latterday Everywoman seeking survival in post-industrial Belgium. Stripped of her white factory uniform after being made redundant, Rosetta dresses in a jumbled livery of red jacket, thick yellow tights and gumboots. These practical togs make her into a vivid, harlequin figure in the sparse and sombre winter landscape, underscoring her near-medieval existence foraging for sustenance and striving for the armoury of a 'normal life' in a Western Europe gone wild.

Fierce and proud, her tactics are basic, even clumsy. She poaches fish with makeshift equipment, and bargains desperately in second-hand clothes shops. She will do anything, including betray a potential friend - anything but lower herself to begging. So she despises her slumped alcoholic mother, prostituting herself for the price of a beer. The rut Rosetta so fears gapes wide open; the trapper could be trapped herself, perhaps in the thick black river which borders the caravan park. At one point Rosetta and her estranged mum become embroiled in a fight on its borders, and Rosetta ends up in the dank waters, weighed down with a despairing motherlode.

This startlingly palpable expression of Rosetta's physical and emotional hardship is emblematic of the Dardennes' poetic style, one which repeatedly discovers resonance in the commonplace. In scrutinised minutiae the one-time documentarians find transcendental signs, in a way reminiscent of the work of Bresson (particularly Mouchette). Rosetta's struggle is literally embodied in her recurring stomach cramps (presumably period pains) and her wrestling bouts with Riquet, the friend whose job she takes. In the final scene, as she drags the gas bottle back to the caravan so she can finish off her and her mother's lives, the burden of mortality is harrowingly intimated. Such a sense of gravity is emphasised further by the film's restless, handheld camera style, bearing down on the heroine as it follows her, perched almost on her shoulders. Indeed, in the opening factory scene we hardly glimpse Rosetta's face as she ricochets around, angry at her impending fate. The Dardennes thrust us into the defiant rhythm of her long march, evoking the films of Alan Clarke who so often focused on his characters' seemingly endless walking, the tread and dread of a relentless existence.

The starkness is compounded by the film's almost complete lack of music, apart from a scene where Riquet demonstrates his enthusiastic but amateurish drumming (it's the only thing he feels he does "nearly well"). Here, perhaps the film's one upbeat moment, Riquet tries to reach out and offer some warmth to the isolated young woman. It's an emotional connection which offers a mite of hope in the ending when Riquet, albeit unwittingly, interrupts her suicide attempt. But ultimately there is little respite in Rosetta, and that's what makes it a film of such eviscerating emotional intensity.


Luc Dardenne
Jean-Pierre Dardenne
Luc Dardenne
Jean-Pierre Dardenne
Michèle Pétin
Laurent Pétin
Luc Dardenne
Jean-Pierre Dardenne
Director of Photography
Alain Marcoen
Marie-Hélène Dozo
Art Director
Igor Gabriel
Jean-Pierre Cocco
©Films du Fleuve/ARP Séléction/RTBF (Télévision Belge)
Production Companies
Luc & Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Michèle & Laurent Pétin present a co-production of Les Films du Fleuve - RTBF (Télévision Belge) and ARP Sélection with the support of Centre du Cinéma et de l'Audiovisuel de la Communauté Française de Belgique/
Télédistributeurs Wallons/Région Wallonne and Loterie Nationale with the participation of Canal+ and Centre National de la Cinématographie
Associate Producer
Arlette Zylberberg
Production Managers
Véronique Marit
Patrick Millet
Unit Production Managers
Philippe Groff
Philippe Toussaint
Unit Managers
Rüdiger Flörke
Didier Hoarau
Assistant Directors
Bernard Garant
Jean-François Tefnin
Script Supervisors
Marika Piedboeuf
Nathalie Weiss
Script Consultant
Léon Michaux
Camera Operator
Benoît Dervaux
Monic Parelle
Key Make-up
Tina Kopecka
Marc Descamps
Michel Leclercq
René Stock
Ronny Venta
"Something New"
Sound Engineer
Jean-Pierre Duret
Thomas Gauder
Sound Editors
Benoît de Clerck
Luc Plantier
Aurélie Muller
Julie Brenta
Sound Effects
Philippe van Leer
Emilie Dequenne
Fabrizio Rongione
Anne Yernaux
Rosetta's mother
Olivier Gourmet
Bernard Marbaix
camping area guard
Frédéric Bodson
personnel chef
Florian Delain
boss's son
Christiane Dorval
Mireille Bailly
secondhand shop
sales people
Thomas Gollas (Rocky)
mother's boyfriend
Léon Michaux
Victor Marit
Colette Regibeau
Madame Riga
Claire Tefnin
cloakroom girl
Sophia Leboutte
woman who is made redundant
Gaetano Ventura
shop boss
Christian Neys
Valentin Traversi
Télé Secours men
Jean-François Noville
ONEM employee

Artificial Eye Film Company
8,470 feet
94 minutes 7 seconds
In Colour
Last Updated: 20 Dec 2011