Tuesday 9 May 2023

Cannes 2023: Dutch & Belgian Selections

All To Play For (Dir: Delphine Deloget)

Sylvie (Virginie Efira, above) lives in Brest with her two children, Sofiane and Jean-Jacques. Together they form a tight, happy family. One night, Sofiane hurts himself, alone in the apartment while his mother is out at work. The incident is reported and Sofiane is placed in foster care. Armed with a lawyer, her brothers and her children’s love, Sylvie is confident she can overcome the bureaucratic and legal machines.

Omen (Dir: Baloji Tshiani)

Following Kofi’s return to his birthplace after he has been ostracized by his family, Omen explores the weight of beliefs on one’s destiny through four characters accused of being witches and sorcerers, all of them intertwined and guiding each other into the phantasmagoria of Africa.

The (Ex)perience of Love (Dirs: Ann Sirot, Raphaël Balboni)

Rémy and Sandra (Lucie Debay, above) are unable to have a child as they suffer from “Past Love Syndrome”. In order to be cured, they only have one solution: they have to sleep once again with each and every one of their past lovers.

Vincent Must Die (Dir: Stéphan Castang)

Random strangers have suddenly started attacking Vincent with murderous intent. His life as an unremarkable man is overturned, and as things spiral violently out of control, he is forced to flee and change his life completely.

The Other Laurens (Dir: Claude Schmitz)

Gabriel Laurens is a private detective. When his niece, Jade, asks him to investigate her father’s death, the detective must confronts the ghosts of his past. Gabriel finds himself caught up in a strange investigation mixing pretence, fantasy, and drug trafficking.

Source/images: THE PR FACTORY

Monday 1 May 2023

Tori and Lokita (Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, 2022)

Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne have long since been established as Belgium's answer to Ken Loach, with the Dardennes' brand of social realism owing much to the tradition of Loach's left-wing dramas.  Both Loach and the Dardennes could be accused of making the same film time and again—although they're hardly the only filmmakers against whom such charges could be levelled—but who really cares when that film is a taut, gritty and highly compelling one?  With this in mind, it will surprise no one to learn that the Dardennes' latest film eschews superheroes and CGI monsters in favour of shining a spotlight on the struggles faced by those on the margins of society.  Yet it should be pointed out, for the sake of anyone approaching Tori and Lokita with the suspicion that it might possess a sort of "eat your vegetables" quality, that the film's social commentary is accompanied with some moments of real tension—including a late, nerve-shredding sequence that rivals the pulsating scene in the Dardennes' The Child in which two petty thieves attempt to evade their pursuers.

Tori and Lokita (Pablo Schils, Joely Mbundu) are two West African children who have arrived in Belgium following a perilous journey, one for which they still owe money to traffickers.  The pair pretend to be brother and sister in the hope that this will help them secure their residence papers, but the authorities are rather sceptical of this story.  Tori and Lokita work for the nefarious Betim (Alban Ukaj), whose crummy pizza place is a front for a drugs operation in which the children are used to deliver the product and collect the money.  For this risky endeavour—which involves shadowy encounters with some unsavoury types—the pair are paid a small amount at the close of each night, with Betim occasionally throwing in a slice or two of pizza.  Realising that their meagre income isn't going to get her and Tori very far, Lokita agrees to a more lucrative gig in the form of minding the plants on Betim's marijuana farm.  

While this new venture stands to improve Lokita's financial situation, it does come at a price: it's a live-in position, which means being cooped up in a windowless room for several months, with the only activity of note being to tend to the plants in their sweltering hothouse.  What's worse, this new arrangement means that Lokita is separated from Tori; while they aren't the blood relatives they claim to be, the pair have nevertheless developed a real bond during their time in Belgium.  Lokita can't even contact Tori, as she was forced to surrender her SIM card on arrival at the factory, which she was transported to while blindfolded.  Even though he's out in the wider world as he continues to run drug errands for Betim, Tori also feels the pain of the separation and seizes a dangerous opportunity to reach the isolated Lokita; this decision proves to be one of the streetwise boy's less brilliant ideas, as it sets the children on a collision course with Betim and his ruthless criminal associates.

Not for the first time in a Dardenne brothers film, it is money (or rather, the lack of it) that dictates the narrative.  While the frantic scratching together of cash is at the core of the likes of Rosetta and the aforementioned The Child, Tori and Lokita feels like an especially close relative of Lorna's Silence, another Dardennes film in which immigration status is a driving force behind the desperate actions of the title character (who, coincidentally, also gets her SIM card confiscated as the story starts to come to the boil).  While much of Tori and Lokita sees Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne on very familiar ground, the last reel is nothing if not surprising, and I am hard pushed to think of a Dardennes film that has subverted audience expectations in such a way.  Social realism has all too often served as a means to an end for filmmakers, but we should all be very glad that the Dardenne brothers—like Ken Loach—have never exhibited much interest in working outside of the genre.            

Darren Arnold

Images: Diaphana