Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne’s Rosetta is a film of ferocious focus and tightly wound physicality. The brothers’ camera rarely strays from its central character, Rosetta (Émilie Dequenne), a 17-year-old Belgian girl struggling with the throes of poverty and the task of keeping her alcoholic mother (Anne Yernaux) alive. Rosetta longs for normalcy — a steady job, a heated living space, regular meals — but it’s elusive.
Building on the immediate aesthetic of their previous feature, the breakthrough La Promesse, the Dardennes continue to hone their oft-imitated style here, often filming Rosetta from behind, weaving through her daily life with her, just a half-step behind. The mood is violent; Rosetta is in the midst of a constant battle, and the brothers’ long takes and intimate camera work make the film a shockingly visceral experience.
The film’s opening scene, where we arrive in the midst of Rosetta’s dismissal from her factory job at the end of a trial period, is a flurry of emotion and motion that sets the tone for nearly every scene to come. Rosetta doesn’t take her fate lying down, even if her belligerent manner never seems to accomplish much. She flails mightily, but to what end? Dequenne’s kinetic unpredictability is riveting, and the Dardennes laser-like focus and brilliantly economic storytelling make Rosetta one of the great works of realist and humanist cinema.
The Blu-ray Disc
Rosetta is granted a 1080p high definition transfer in its original 1.66:1 aspect ratio. The presentation is somewhat limited by the film’s intended look, which is somewhat dim and drab, but the transfer here is exceptionally film-like, with perfectly rendered grain and strong detail throughout. Colors are generally muted but they remain clean and consistent throughout, and the print shows essentially no damage. The 2.0 DTS-HD soundtrack mostly sticks to the front channel, but relays the film’s dialogue cleanly and clearly.
Rosetta features a similar lineup to companion release La Promesse, with the major feature being an hour-long interview with the brothers conducted by critic Scott Foundas, which offers an insightful and in-depth look at the conception and creation of the film. Interview segments with Dequenne and Dardennes regular Olivier Gourmet, who plays one of Rosetta’s bosses in the film, cover fairly expected territory about the film’s production. The disc also includes the film’s theatrical trailer. Included in the package is a booklet with an excellent essay by Kent Jones.
The Bottom Line
Along with Criterion’s release of La Promesse, this edition of Rosetta is a superb look at the vital filmmaking of the Dardenne Brothers.