Film Scouts on the Riviera 1999


by David Sterritt

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Overall, this year's Cannes lineup was characterized by perfectly good movies that rest a notch or two below their directors' finest work. Jim Jarmusch's "Ghost Dog" is no "Dead Man" and Atom Egoyan's "Felicia's Journey" is no "The Sweet Hereafter," just as Raoul Ruiz's "Time Regained" is no "Top of the Whale" and Peter Greenaway's "8 1/2 Women" is no "A Zed and Two Naughts." The same holds true for the Palme d'Or winner, "Rosetta," which recalls Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne's explosive "La Promesse" without reaching quite the same level of inspiration and originality. The heroine is a teenage girl vainly struggling to get her life in order despite the crushing burdens of a claustrophobic home, an alcoholic mother, and an inadequate social safety net that utterly fails her. The movie works better as personal drama than social commentary; its main political message, about the need for better social services in Belgium, is important but worked out with less conviction than in "La Promesse," and seems almost perfunctory compared with, say, the amazing "Ladybird Ladybird" by old-pro activist Ken Loach. "Rosetta" is very effective as a scathing story of desperate youth, though, sparked by the Dardennes' propulsive hand-held cinematography and by Emilie Dequenne's prizewinning portrayal of the title character. It's a small picture, but a memorable one.

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