Rosetta by the Dardenne Brothers (1999, Belgium) is the naturalistic film whereby the Brothers ventured deep into the psychological state of the people living the lower class life in Belgium, targeting specifically, those who live through the harsh reality of unemployment. (Wikipedia, Rosetta) The Dardenne Brothers’s cinema revolves mainly around realism and work-and-labor ( Inc.B, the Dardenne Brothers) in Belgium and it is always delivered by flawed characters with possibly even morally deplorable personalities depending on their circumstances. 

In their films, they always aim to ‘disturb’ the viewer’s perception of ethics and subconsciously realise and understand the reasons behind what people do what they do. In Rosetta, they regarded their hope for impact through a feisty seventeen-year-old Rosetta with nothing but a dysfunctional mother, a caravan for a home and an immense desire to have a normal life once and for all. rosetta6 In the film, the Brothers’ employed shaky handheld cameras and jerky camera movements right from the start, making everything as realistic for the viewers as possible, like we’re following Rosetta in her rollercoaster of a life, implicating us to experience it with her as she repeatedly goes at her daily routines throughout the film; changing her ‘outdoor’ shoes into her rubber boots which she hides in a secluded corner of the caravan park, checking the improvised fishing lines she puts out by the lake for fish and sneaks around like a criminal in town and entering the caravan park through a fence at the back instead of the main entrance.

The extremely close proximity the camera has with Rosetta, as it chases her from behind, struggling to keep up, always ‘looking’ at Rosetta’s every expression and grimace the moment something happens forces the audience to be her ‘friend’, sharing all her misery in yet another minute’s delay towards her ideal life, her pain when she loses her job and her relief when she finds another. 6a0168ea36d6b2970c017c34136793970b-800wi The Dardenne Brothers’ camerawork, POV shots and extreme close up shots behind trees and pillars make us the invisible ‘friend’ that fears for and with her as we see what she sees, be the one that feels indignant at not being able to do anything to help her and when she gets into trouble, we are dragged along and embroiled in her problems once more, without break or rest.

What the Dardenne Brothers’ have managed to accomplish in their cinema is their ability not to command sympathy in fictional setting and frame but in a seemingly actual-lifelike environment and experience, propel their viewers into agreeing to vile actions done by the characters; ones we were morally supposed to criticize and condemn. Their style and fondness of using handheld cameras helps in giving us as much insight into the characters’ wretched lives as possible. The technique of obliterating the presence of the camera is similar to one called Cinéma vérité, invented by Jean Rouch. (Wikipedia, Cinema verite)Rosetta (1999) 08 After being tangled and helpless running hot on Rosetta’s heels, we slowly begin to understand the film being one of economic determinism, the story of a young girl whose employment in equivalent to happiness. But at the same time, we start to sympathize with all the immoral acts Rosetta commits like selling out her only friend, Riquet, who sold waffles he made with his own batter to his boss in order to get him fired and take his job.

The Brothers’ camera angles that reflect her sneaky and furtive lifestyle and shots that always capture her facial expressions, keeps us viewers in her zone and we always eventually find out why she does what she did. The accessibility to Rosetta’s life through the surreal experience of watching her through the lens justified her conduct as we question our principles and gauge for ourselves the pardon allowed for compassion considering the plight of a poor teenager who just wants a job for a shot at the normal life she’s never had for the past seventeen years.

What gives the film its appeal is not just how the The Dardeene Brothers’ camerawork and effective framing allows us to experience the hardships of the lower class in Belgium firsthand but how the film gives recognition of the struggle that goes on within the characters and us who while basically good, may make wrong or bad choices.

The Dardenne Brothers’ filming style and intentions for the viewers with Rosetta was criticized as much as it was praised. Stephen Holden of The New York Times mentioned in his critic ‘the movie feels claustrophobic’.  Peter Bradshaw writing for The Guardian mentioned in his critic that ‘This is a film with a rigorous transforming gaze, a strange and passionate urgency.’ Rosetta can be seen as an extension of the life of the lower class, the voice of the unemployed in Belgium, as well as one of the most impactful film the Dardenne Brothers had ever made. (Guardian, Streets ahead of competition)

In the same year the film was released, it inspired ‘Plan Rosetta’, one that protected the rights of teen workers like Rosetta and prohibited employers from paying then less than the minimum wage as well as other labor reforms for the youths.  Even the brothers never expect such a major influence, Luc Dardenne said ‘we always hope our films will speak to people, disturb them, but we never hoped to change the world’.” (Eurofound, Rosetta Plan)

All in all, the Dardenne Brothers are one of the most formidable pair of sibling filmmakers whose cinema shall always continue to reach and touch your core and challenge every conception you have ever conceived in your entire lifetime, just as Rosetta did for the world.


About the author: Germaine Lim is a fervent writer, hairstylist and someone who needs to learn to stop crying over fictional characters. References

En.wikipedia.org.Rosetta (film) – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

In-text: (En.wikipedia.org 1999) Bibliography: En.wikipedia.org. 1999. Rosetta (film) – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. [online] Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rosetta_(film) [Accessed: 15 Jun 2013].

En.wikipedia.org. Cinéma vérité – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

In-text: (En.wikipedia.org 1950)Bibliography: En.wikipedia.org. 1950. Cinéma vérité – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. [online] Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cin%C3%A9ma_v%C3%A9rit%C3%A9 [Accessed: 16 Jun 2013].

Inc., B. The Dardenne Brothers: On Hard Work, Patience & Mentors

In-text: (Inc. 1999) Bibliography: Inc., B. 1999. The Dardenne Brothers: On Hard Work, Patience & Mentors. [online] Available at: http://99u.com/articles/6987/the-dardenne-brothers-on-hard-work-patience-mentors [Accessed: 16 Jun 2013].

Eurofound.europa.eu. Rosetta plan launched to boost youth employment

In-text: (Eurofound.europa.eu 1999) Bibliography: Eurofound.europa.eu. 1999. Rosetta plan launched to boost youth employment. [online] Available at: http://www.eurofound.europa.eu/eiro/1999/11/feature/be9911307f.htm [Accessed: 16 Jun 2013].

Google Books.Thinking Through Film

In-text: (Google Books n.d.) Bibliography: Google Books. n.d.. Thinking Through Film. [online] Available at: http://books.google.com.sg/books?id=xXsOhl6qAeQC&pg=PT215&lpg=PT215&dq=dardenne+brothers+aims&source=bl&ots=CGvlThs7Tx&sig=vgZerM9kK8QEFGrjeMcoGemrLx8&hl=en&sa=X&ei=UVDDUeaYIsK3rAerhoGoBw&ved=0CE0Q6AEwBA [Accessed: 16 Jun 2013].

Partners.nytimes.com.’Rosetta’: Poor Belgian Girl Yearns for (What Else?) Waffles

In-text: (Partners.nytimes.com n.d.) Bibliography: Partners.nytimes.com. n.d.. ‘Rosetta’: Poor Belgian Girl Yearns for (What Else?) Waffles. [online] Available at: http://partners.nytimes.com/library/film/100299rosetta-film-review.html [Accessed: 16 Jun 2013].

the Guardian. Streets ahead of the competition

In-text: (the Guardian 2000) Bibliography: the Guardian. 2000. Streets ahead of the competition. [online] Available at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2000/feb/25/5 [Accessed: 15Jun 2013].


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