Teen Angel and Devil
The Belgian film Rosie opens with an interview of a thirteen-year-old girl (Aranka Coppens) in juvenile detention for an unknown crime. The sequence's immediacy and bareness somehow resemble interview scenes from The 400 Blows and Vivre sa Vie, but this first impression is a mirage. Rosie is less intellectual and more realistic than those adorable French New Wave offerings, even though it does have a nostalgic feel, a Sixties European style.
Set in the colorless landscape of a gloomy apartment, the film's structure is based on a series of flashbacks from the detention center, which one of the inmates describes as a place where "everyone is either crazy or has killed someone." Rosie's transgression, however, is not revealed until the film's final moments, giving suspense to what would otherwise be a common tale of a dysfunctional domestic life. In this particular tale, she confronts not only the loneliness and eagerness of adolescence but also the fear of becoming rational and irreversibly responsible, and of leaving behind a child's sweet-and-sour world of fantasy and illusion.
The movie's narrative contains linked subplots that create a cold and distant picture of Rosie's life. She lives with her mother, Irene (Sara de Roo), who pretends to be Rosie's older sister in order to win over her many suitors. Rosie is always demanding her mother's love and affection, but Irene is only capable of giving it in small, scant doses. After a car runs Rosie down, she returns home to a mother who pays more attention to herself than to her wounded daughter. It is through this relationship between physical and psychological wounds that the girl's search for identity is depicted. Rosie's domestic life gets worse when a creepy uncle, Michel (Frank Vercruyssen), visits the house and forces Rosie to give up her room. The relationship between Irene and Michel clearly goes beyond that of siblings, and soon Michel's presence in Rosie's life becomes a discordant and dynamic element that moves the plot forward.
The film captures a young person's need for freedom and tenderness as well as an adolescent's frustration with a world made by and for adults. Rosie, for instance, wants to fit into the adult patterns that reject her and that create a fantastic, schizo world. In juvenile detention Rosie tells the inmates (truthfully or not) she was raped by a large Moroccan who "plunged his hot lance" into her and made her experience "the nicest thing I ever felt." It's this weaving together of her sexual fantasies and her sexual awakening that is one of the must attractive elements of the film. In another episode she attempts to attract her mother's attention and love by choosing to free her appetite for adulthood and create a real/imaginary love affair with a young rebel, Jimi (Joost Wijnant).
Her simulation of adult behavior drives her to kidnap a baby and pretend to be her mother for a few hours, in the company of her trusted accomplice Jimi. This crazed behavior tints the film with sinister tones.
Although the narrative runs smoothly with direct cuts into new dramatic actions, the film has a sense of flatness. This is perhaps a result of its delay in tackling the central plot, or maybe because the movie overextends its various subplots. Miraculously, however, this dryness is saved by a darker, alienated resolution.
The young actress Coppens is not the average, fetching girl of a typical teen story. Her character is derived from her own personality, giving the film the necessary support to follow her until the end. Director Patrice Toye's feature debut is neat and sober, always fighting against the odds of falling into melodrama and a too familiar tale of dysfunctional girls awakening to love and sex. Her remarkable indifference toward decoration, her special taste for desolated spaces and barely adorned sets, and her preference for closeups that interrogate her characters' inner identities all offer proof of her willingness to create a more realistic and reflexive drama.
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