by Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne


Review of the film and Crazy Chinese DVD by Gary W. Tooze

"Your name is Rosetta. I am Rosetta. You found a job. I found a job..." You deserve recognition. I deserve recognition.


On the last day of the 1999 Cannes Film Festival a late entry by the Belgian Dardenne brothers, called "Rosetta"  was finally screened. But many of the U.S. critics and reporters had already returned back to the States, prepared to pen their editorials and  submit their expense forms. 


Unfortunately for them, and for many North Americans in general, they have missed the deeply felt Palme D'or winning film for that year. It was unfortunately not marketed for the U.S. and Canadian demographic post Cannes, and few are aware of it and the wonderful naturalistic performance of Emilie Dequenne, winner of Best Actress accolade. She was never a professional thespian prior to this film.

Rosetta proves a very appropriate title for the movie as the camera never strays from her throughout the entire film. Her face, in constant close-ups, is a series of masked expressions worthy of comparisons to Falconetti or Masina. 


For a paltry two million dollars Jean Pierre and Luc Dardenne shot and continuously edited 60 hours of film footage to parse down and create a 95 minute cinema verité masterpiece. The true artistic crime-of-the-century is that its exposure to the mass audiences has been very limited. It is this audience that might benefit the most from its viewing. The political and moral message it sends is one inherent to all sentient beings who are concerned with their fellow humankind. It is heartfelt on a raw, gritty gut-level.

The character Rosetta, at times, exhibits herself as a savage, tortured soul, ready to defend her non-existent rights with ferocious determination. She is also a closed-off, obsessed survivor, fighting to find her place in society. This, while shouldering the weight of ulcer-pained responsibilities for the maternal-like care required to oversee to her own flawed mother. Her struggles are even more pitiful and real to us since they are primarily for the most basic elements of living. Things perhaps we quite often take for granted and, in HER own mind, can be satisfied by obtaining employment. Has society manifested the impression that this will make her a "normal person?" Perhaps her mother will cease her alcoholism and sexual promiscuity. She might establish friendships... even get a boyfriend if she could only get a steady job.

"I just want to be a normal person like you"

The most disparaging blow of the film, eviscerating to our psyche, is that after lowering her loyalty and integrity to get employment, she has not achieved her dream of normalcy at all. Her mother lies drunk in public view in the trailer park where they reside. Her only friend follows her with piercing dagger-like stares of guilt over recent betrayals. 


On two occasions she states her fear is "falling into the rut". I'm unsure if this has a Flemish meaning different than I understand. What Rosetta seems to construe is "falling into the cracks of society" not unlike what has befallen her mother. But Rosetta eventually learns the similar definition that I am aware of, that of : "run-in-the-mill", "day-in day-out", "routine". From her gainful employment as a snack vendor she starts daily, repetitious tasks. ex. "Here is your waffle Sir. Thank you." and locking up the trailer where it is housed.

Her job and its obviously meager monetary benefits have not solved her inherent problems at all. The Scio-economic system has effectively failed her and leftist directors, Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, are fully aware of this most subtle message that they have imbedded. Economics is NOT the perceived root of her pain (or perhaps even our pain?). It is instead her inability to open herself up, accept assistance, or have a healthy interaction with her mom or potential boyfriend. We realize that she has learned to survive with her current materialistic limitations; she fishes for food, sells repaired clothes for extra cash and keeps her work shoes hidden from potential theft or ruin. She will always survive regardless of her circumstance. Every detail of the film points to the fact that her issues are not monetarily based but emotionally rooted. As when she is forced to dance, she is stiff, closed-up and unexpressive. As in the past, Rosetta will eventually explode when her perception of happiness or the route to achieve it is fraught with detours and roadblocks, jeopardizing her obsessive goal. 

Some armchair reviewers have stated that the film is un-watchable... Sorry, I don't buy into that description at all, although it is so deviant from the normal Hollywood-style formula that many viewers may exhibit discomfort at "Rosetta"s style with a occasional jiggling camera shots or extreme close-ups.


For any who approach this film with an open enough mind, you cannot help but benefit from its touched by its bare, gritty charm... feel for desperate frustrations of its main character. If you view it as a chore or penance then, of course, your time would be better spent with cinema more suiting to your current tastes. The secret to "Rosetta" is opening your mind to its vast subtleties. As with the Dardenne brother's previous feature film, "La Promesse", viewers are challenged to determine plot details rather than have them blatantly bared and unequivocally dished out. It can then cause a multitude of reactions and interpretations, even, in the case of "Rosetta", from each of the two directors or main actress when interviewed on separate occasions. Cinema has conquered a rarely achieved level and its extensive reach has equaled its grasp. "Rosetta" raises the bar yet again for others to surpass or equal. Cinema does not get any better out of .

FILM and DVD Details

First my applause for availability, no matter how painstakingly difficult, for R1 DVD player owners (North America) to see this film at all. This is the only R1-R0 disc that I am aware of. The funniest glitch in the nice animated menus are that the "Subtitles" and "Chapters" headings are reversed (Click on "Subtitles" it goes to "Chapters", vice-versa). Unfortunately, I believe the aspect ratio has been stilted to fit a 4:3 box. Meaning, it is in its original aspect of 1.66:1 but compressed into a 1.33:1 screen, making the characters look slightly elongated. Its not too bad (see my captures above), but it is a major flaw that causes my  out of rating for the DVD.

Full Cast and Crew for
Rosetta (1999) 

Directed by 
Jean-Pierre Dardenne 
Luc Dardenne 

Writing credits 
Jean-Pierre Dardenne 
Luc Dardenne 

Cast (in credits order) 
Emilie Dequenne .... Rosetta 
Fabrizio Rongione .... Riquet 
Anne Yernaux .... The Mother 
Olivier Gourmet .... The Boss 
Bernard Marbaix .... The Campgrounds Manager 
Frédéric Bodson .... The Head of Personnel 
Florian Delain .... The Boss's Son 
Christiane Dorval .... First Saleswoman 
Mireille Bailly .... Second Saleswoman 
Thomas Gollas .... The Mother's Boyfriend 
Leon Michaux .... First Policeman 
Victor Marit .... Second Policeman 
Colette Regibeau .... Madame Riga 
Claire Tefnin .... Girl in Locker Room 
Sophie Leboutte .... Fired Woman 
Gaetano Ventura .... Store Manager 
Christian Neys .... First Paramedic 
Valentin Traversi .... Second Paramedic 
Jean-Francois Noville .... Hospital Worker 

Produced by 
Jean-Pierre Dardenne .... producer 
Luc Dardenne .... producer 
Laurent Pétin .... producer 
Michèle Pétin .... producer 
Arlette Zylberberg .... associate producer 

Original music by 
Jean-Pierre Cocco 

Cinematography by 
Alain Marcoen 

Film Editing by 
Marie-Hélène Dozo 

Production Design by 
Igor Gabriel 

Costume Design by 
Monic Parelle 

Makeup Department 
Tina Kopecka .... key makeup artist 

Production Management 
Véronique Marit .... production manager 
Patrick Millet .... production manager: France 
Philippe Toussaint .... unit production manager 

Second Unit Director or Assistant Director 
Bernard Garant .... assistant director 
Jean-Francois Tefnin .... assistant director 

Sound Department 
Jean-Pierre Duret .... sound engineer 
Thomas Gauder .... sound mixer 
Philippe van Leer .... foley artist 

Other crew 
Benoît Dervaux .... camera operator 
Amaury Duquenne .... second assistant camera 
Jean-François Hensgens .... focus puller 

DVD Edition Details

• NTSC format (US and Canada only)

• 4:3 stilted picture

• All Region

• Purchased from E-Bay

• Subtitles in removable English or Chinese

• Color, NTSC

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