Rosetta (Emilie Dequenne) is a young woman who lives in a caravan park with her alcoholic mother (Anne Yernaux). When she gets fired for no apparent reason from her job at a factory, kindly waffle seller Riquet (Fabrizio Rongione) helps her get new work at a small bakery. She loses that job, too, however, and in her fury she lies to her former boss (Olivier Gourmet) in regards to Riquet’s honesty. Things get even more emotionally complicated and tragic from there.
Rosetta, winner of both the Palme-d’Or and Best Actress at the 1999 Cannes Film Festival, is about as difficult a sit as any movie I have ever seen. Granted, it isn’t like directors Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne make easy movies to begin with, anyone who has watched La promesse, L’Enfant or their latest Kid on a Bike can tell you that. But this movie? This one is a whole different level of pain and suffering, the story offering up an emotionally bleak world that feels so unrelentingly real watching it from beginning to end isn’t exactly easy.
That doesn’t make it any less spectacular. Dequenne is incredible, giving one of the great performances of the past, I don’t know, 15, 25 years? There is no artifice to her portrait of Rosetta, nothing that feels false or artificial. The brothers prefer a documentary-like style to their productions, no music, no crazy edits, lots of long takes that allows the action to speak for itself. Dequenne embraces this esthetic and then some, losing herself so completely inside the character it’s impossible to note where the performance begins and the inherent reality of the situations presented comes to an end.
Granted, everyone here is pretty darn great, many Dardenne regulars, most notably Gourmet, making an indelible impact upon the proceedings. The various stories going, how they all affect Rosetta, everything comes together with subtle ease. There are no missteps, none of the dramatics feel out of place or melodramatic, everything presented with a matter-of-fact honesty that’s continuously impressive.
But the movie is hard to watch. More than that, like a lot of the brothers’ films it doesn’t exactly come to an end. They present the characters and the situations and leave it up to the viewer to come to their own conclusions where things go after the cameras are turned off. There are no answers, only more questions, and considering how bleak and uncompromising everything happening here that’s not exactly a comforting place to leave things at.
All of which makes Rosetta a difficult film to recommend even though in all actuality the darn thing is remarkably close to being a masterpiece. For my part, while I appreciate the film on practically every level, while I treasure the cinematic acumen it took to bring it off with such consummate skill, I can’t say it is a picture I find all that easy to watch and, unlike La promesse or even Kid on a Bike, one I would willingly return to very often in the future.
Rosetta is presented on a dual-layer 50GB Blu-ray MPEG-4 AVC Video with a 1.66:1/1080p transfer. As stated in the included booklet: “Supervised by director of photography Alain Marcoen, this new high-definition digital transfer was created on a Spirit 2K Datacine from a 35mm blowup interpositive. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, warps, jitter, and flicker were manually removed using MTI's DRS and Pixel Farm's PFClean.”
Rosetta comes to Blu-ray in French DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 and includes optional English subtitles. Again, from the included booklet: “The original 2.0 surround soundtrack was remastered at 24-bit from the 35mm magnetic tracks. Clicks, thumps, hiss, and hum were manually removed using Pro Tools HD. Crackle was attenuated using AudioCube's integrated workstation.”
Extras here include:
· Interviews with Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne
· Interviews with Emilie Dequenne and Olivier Gourmet
· Original Theatrical Trailer
Like La promesse, there’s not a lot in the way in extras. But also like that Blu-ray, the hour-long interview with the Dardennes conducted by Scott Foundas is absolutely essential. The trio dive right into Rosetta, covering numerous aspects of its production from start to finish to its growing legacy as a modern classic. The interview piece with Dequenne and Gourmet is also quite good, but at not even 20 minutes it barely covers enough material for it to be completely satisfying.
The Blu-ray also comes with a 14-page Illustrated Booklet featuring an essay by film critic Kent Jones’ essay “Radical Economy.”
Rosetta is one of those movies that I realize is a masterpiece but at the same time have trouble recommending. It’s unforgiving in its depiction of its characters leading to a conclusion that isn’t exactly satisfying and hardly contains a single resolution. But is masterfully made and acted, flat-out genius in most ways that matter. Just realize watching it isn’t for the faint of heart, and although Criterion’s Blu-ray is close to perfect I suggest picking it up as a rental, first, before making the decision to add it to your library.