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Young heroine tears through a troubled life in 'Rosetta'

Friday, May 05, 2000

By Barbara Vancheri, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Rosetta is desperate to have a job. Desperate.


RATING: R for language

STARRING: Emilie Dequenne

DIRECTORS: Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne

CRITIC'S CALL: 2 1/2 stars


When a friend, the only person who has shown any kindness toward her, tumbles into a muddy stream and cannot climb out, she weighs letting him drown. Then, she could inherit his very modest position selling waffles from a food wagon on a Belgium street. That's how much she wants a job and a semblance of a normal life.

"Rosetta," in French with English subtitles, is a story that would literally be foreign to most Americans. The teen-age Rosetta (Emilie Dequenne) lives in a trailer park with her alcoholic, promiscuous mother and spends her time working at getting work and trying to manage their very meager existence. That means making sure the park manager turns the water, available from a faucet outside, back on, and trying to persuade her slovenly mother to seek help.

"Rosetta," which won the Golden Palm at the 1999 Cannes Film Festival for writers-directors Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne, takes us into the heart of Rosetta's world. The brothers often use tight shots and handheld cameras (producing herky-jerky images) to follow a scowling Rosetta as she races, stomps and prowls the city. Sometimes the camera is so tight on the action, that you can hardly tell what's happening; you may feel temporarily confused, but involved.

This is a girl in perpetual, mad motion. If she's not pounding the pavement, she's wandering to the water's edge to use a makeshift, open-ended bottle to hook and catch fish. Rosetta seems to have made peace with her job-at-any-cost actions, but she starts to buckle under the weight of the world. Even when she seems to give up, though, nothing is easy.

Newcomer Dequenne shared the Best Actress prize at Cannes and she propels this movie. She is not your typical leading lady; she looks like a regular person, with her non-porcelain skin and workaday wardrobe.

"Rosetta," opening today at the Denis Theater, offers a slice of life in a depressed, unnamed city. It makes no efforts to explain the dire unemployment situation; it merely shows the travails of one girl and those she encounters.

It ends abruptly but powerfully, and its effect lingers. The land of opportunity has never seemed so populated with "Help Wanted" signs than after seeing this.

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