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Rosetta: Criterion Collection (Blu-ray Review)

Rosetta - www.whysoblu.comThe Belgian filmmaking team of brothers Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne turned heads with Rosetta, an intense vérité drama that closely follows a poor young woman struggling to hold on to a job to support herself and her alcoholic mother. It’s a swift and simple tale made revelatory by the raw, empathetic way in which the directors render Rosetta’s desperation, keeping the camera nearly perched on her shoulder throughout. Many have copied the Dardennes’ style, but few have equaled it. This ferocious film won big at Cannes, earning the Palme d’Or for the filmmakers and the best actress prize for the indomitable Émilie Dequenne. 

Rosetta - www.whysoblu.com

Film

Rosetta is the story of a young girl named Rosetta who lives in a caravan park and looks after her alcoholic mother, when she’s not out there trying to get a job. Nothing seems to go right for the tenacious young woman in that she’s constantly being let go from jobs that she thought were permanent. She refuses any and all types of help from anyone including the state. She’s a very prideful young woman. Her main drive and focus is to be part of “regular society” in that everyone works, everyone makes a living, and that’s the way things are and should be. You would think that it’d be that simple since Rosetta is very goal oriented, but as is real life, even this fictitious tale of struggle does throw in various curve balls at the under dog.

Rosetta goes from one dead-end job to another even going so far as to straight up ask for jobs from strangers. She stops off and randomly asks the man tending the local waffle shop for a gig, but when he says that they’re not hiring, she bypasses that response and goes to the owner himself and hits him up for work. It doesn’t work out initially, but she’s undeterred and strikes up a bit of conversation with the guy tending the front. It’s in these moments where she lets her guard down a bit that one would think she’s showing a bit of her vulnerable side considering she has a horrible home life tending to her alcoholic mother. Never mind her personal problems in being a young woman. She uses a blow dryer to relieve her stomach cramps.

That part about letting her guard down is pretty much a ruse, because she’s not above being a backstabber. She’s in self-preservation and will do anything to come up. Even if it means betraying people that you thought were friends. I did a bit of reading and saw that Rosetta won the coveted Palme d’Or in 1999. Personally, I don’t see what the big deal is, but then again, the film hasn’t really sunk in yet. This is also my first introduction to The Dardenne Brothers and their films. I do own La Promesse and The Kid with a Bike but haven’t seen those. I will be reviewing Kid with a Bike later on, though, so maybe that will help me appreciate their overall body of work.

What Rosetta does get right is the sense of urgency and the cinematography. Rosetta is shot completely over the shoulder and it is in there tight. There’s no other coverage whatsoever. We ARE the proverbial fly-on-the-wall throughout the film’s entire running time. This might make some viewers sick, because there is a bit of “shaky-cam” here and there and Rosetta’s life isn’t all warm and fuzzy. It’s gritty, grimy, and extremely difficult. Rosetta is a teenager living full-grown adult woman’s life. She really doesn’t have time to make friends and doesn’t really have the hindsight to see the error of some of her choices. Rosetta is a double edged sword in that Rosetta herself is stuck in a difficult life situation (just trying to get by) but her pride gets in the more often than not. There are two scenes that struck me: someone gave her mom a fish and she snatched away and threw it out in woods, because they weren’t “beggars.” Rosetta ends up making a fishing line out of a broken bottle and fishes out their dinner instead. I get that she’s proud of being a hardworking person, but if you’re given food then there’s no reason to be a jerk and throw it out. The second scenario that irked me somewhat was when she goes to the unemployment office and is turned away, because the only jobs available require lots of experience and she doesn’t have that much of it, the social worker tells her that she may qualify for welfare. She storms off. Look, I like that she doesn’t want to accept help from the state, but desperate times call for desperate measures. Take the help.

I would love to have given Rosetta a higher score, film wise, but it’s more of a mixed bag at this point, so I will play devil’s advocate and slice it down the middle. It’s a technically amazing film, but certain decisions that are made by our lead made me scratch my head more than once. I will revisit the film at a latter time and I will watch The Dardenne’s other offerings soon enough.

 

Rosetta - www.whysoblu.com

Video

Rosetta is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.66:1. On standard 4:3 televisions, the image will appear letterboxed. On standard and widescreen televisions, black bars may also be visible on the left and right to maintain the proper screen format. Supervised by director of photography Alain Marcoen, this new high-definition digital transfer was created on a Spirit 2K Datacine from a 35 mm blowup interpositive. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, warps, jutter, and flicker were manually removed using MTI’s DRS and Pixel Farm’s PFClean.

Rosetta does have a peculiar palette and the HD format really brings out all the great and not so great qualities the film has to offer. I really enjoyed the use of primary colors like Rosetta’s bright red jacket in addition to some of the other characters and their wardrobe choices. It seemed as if they were the “brightest” in their bleak and miserable surroundings. Flesh tones looked solid and natural. No one wore make-up, obviously, so there were realistic facial blemishes everywhere, which added to the realism of the lead’s environment. The bad parts of the transfer actually start out early on during the opening frames. There’s a bright red title card that is extremely grainy bordering on excessive noise. This goes away, but you’ll have to be patient, because it does come and go throughout. I don’t know what condition the original print was in, but if this is what Criterion had to work with then I give them props. I would not want to see the original print in that current state. I love grain but detest noise.

 

Rosetta - www.whysoblu.com

Audio

The original 2.0 Surround soundtrack was remastered at 24-bit from the 35 mm magnetic tracks. Clicks, thumps, hiss, and hum were manually removed using Pro Tools HD. Crackle was attenuated using AudioCube’s integrated workstation.

Rosetta on Blu-ray sounds great and you’ll feel like you’re smack in the middle of Belgium and bustling urban countryside. It’s a 2.0 soundtrack; so don’t expect a really dynamic offering. Instead, you will get a pretty busy one. Dialogue is clean and clear. The ambient sounds come through and really make you feel like you’re there with Rosetta. Dialogue and environmental sounds are the real winners in terms of audio on this Blu-ray disc.

 

Rosetta - www.whysoblu.com

Extras

Rosetta is a tad light on the extras but what is included is of great substance. There’s a one-hour interview with The Dardenne Brothers in which they discuss the meaning of Rosetta in great and warm detail. The second interview is a bit shorter and features Emile Dequene and Olivier Gournet as they talk about their work on Rosetta. I do wish there was more, though.

  • Conversation between film critic Scott Foundas and filmmakers
  • New interview with actors Emilie Dequenne and Olivier Gourmet
  • Trailer
  • New English subtitle translation
  • PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by film critic Kent Jones

 

Rosetta - www.whysoblu.com

Summary

Rosetta was okay considering it was my first time watching it. I was neither floored by it nor overwhelmed by it. I may have to watch it again just to see if there’s anything I missed or some hidden meaning that was overlooked on this initial first viewing. I do have more films by The Dardenne Brothers to get through (La Promesse and The Kid with a Bike), so here’s hoping that it’s just me watching the middle film of what some may call their unofficial “character study” trilogy. I don’t know. This Blu-ray features above average video and sound, but skimps on the special features, although what is offered is top notch.

 

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Gerard Iribe is a writer/reviewer for Why So Blu?. He has also reviewed for other sites like DVD Talk, Project-Blu, and CHUD, but Why So Blu? is where the heart is. You can follow his incoherency on Twitter: @giribe

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