Rosetta – The Criterion Collection #621 (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

August 12, 2012 by  

Heartbreaking and real, Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne’s award-winning film “Rosetta” is a compelling film featuring a wonderful performance by newcomer Émilie Dequenne.  Highly recommended!

Image courtesy of ©Films du Fleuve – ARP Selection 1999. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: Rosetta – The Criterion Collection #621


DURATION: 93 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (1:66:1 Aspect Ratio), French DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 with English Subtitles


RELEASE DATE: August 14, 2012

Directed by Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne

Written by Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne

Producer: Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne, Laurent Petin, Michele Petin

Associate Producer: Arlette Zylberberg

Music by Jean-Pierre Cocco

Cinematography by Alain Marcoen

Edited by Marie-Helene Dozo

Production Design by Igor Gabriel

Costume Design by Monic Parelle


Émilie Dequenne as Rosetta

Fabrizio Rongione as Riquet

Anne Yernaux as The Mother

Olivier Gourmet as The Boss

Bernard Marbaix as The Campgrounds Manager

Frederic Bodson as The Head of PErsonnel

Florian Delain as The Boss’s Son

The 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.

The Dardenne brothers, Jean-Pierre and Luc, have created a good number of award-winning films.

From the 2002 film “The Son” (winner of the “Prize of the Ecumenical Jury at the Cannes Film Festival), 2005 film “The Child” (winner of the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival), 2008 film “Lorna’s Silence” (winner of “Best Screenplay” at the Cannes Film Festival) and most recently with their 2011 film “The Kid with a Bike”, which won the Grand Prize of the Jury for “Best Film” at the Cannes Film Festival.

With films that are highly anticipated for their quality writing and direction, back in 1999, the Dardenne Brothers achieved enormous success with their film “Rosetta” which won the “Palme D’Or”, “Prize of the Ecumenical Jury – Special Mention” and “Best Actress” for Émilie Dequenne at the Cannes Film Festival.

And back in Belgium, the film was also inspirational in creating a new law that would prohibit employees from paying teenage employees less than minimum wage.

And now, “Rosetta” will be released on Blu-ray courtesy of the Criterion Collection.

“Rosetta” begins with teenager Rosetta (as portrayed by Émilie Dequenne) being fired from her job.  Because the job was only temporary, even though she did her work, she is being let go.  Desperate for teh money, she tries to do all she can to stay inside the building, to the point that she tries to fight with her supervisor and the police who try to get her out.

We then get a glimpse of Rosetta’s life.  Rosetta lives in the trailer park community (known as “The Grand Canyon”) and she and her mother (as portrayed by Anne Yernaux) are barely able to pay the bills.  To make things worse, Rosetta is like the parent because her mother is an alcoholic and is often seen inebriated and is often out having sex with a man that she just met.

Things are so bad at home that they are behind on bills, she is often leaving and hiding trout traps (in order to eat and survive).

As Rosetta is hungry, poor and desperate for a job, she often keeps in contact with a young man named Riquet (as portrayed by Fabrizio Rongione) who works at a local waffle shop.  And of all the people in her life, Riquet is the only one that has an interest in her and genuinely wants to be her friend.

But out of despair, how far will Rosetta go to get a job?


“Rosetta – The Criterion Collection #621” is a film presented in 1080p High Definition (1:66:1 aspect ratio). The film looks absolutely magnificent on Blu-ray!  For a ’90s film, a lot of films made during this decade tend to show a bit of softness and lack of detail.  For “Rosetta”, the transfer was well-done.

You can see the mud and grime on Rosetta quite clearly, while the handheld camera may be too shaky for some viewers, I wasn’t bothered by the style of filmmaking or camerawork.  In fact, I applauded this style because it was independent filmmaking at its best.  No overacting, nothing too elaborate, it felt real, it seemed real and cinematographer Alain Marcoen did a wonderful job on how he kept focused on Rosetta.

According to the Criterion Collection, the transfer was supervised by director of photography Alain Marcoen.  The 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, jitter and flicker were manually removed using MTI’s DRS and Pixel Farm’s PF Clean.


“Rosetta – The Criterion Collection #621” is presented in lossless 2.0 surround.  Dialogue is clear, as with the sound of Riquet’s moped engine being revved up, these sounds are clear.  English subtitles were easy to read!

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


“Rosetta – The Criterion Collection #621” comes with the following special features:

  • Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne – (1:01:52) Conversation between film critic Scott Foundas and filmmakers Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne .
  • Émilie Dequenne and Olivier Gourmet – (18:17) 2012 interviews with Émilie Dequenne (who plays Rosetta) and Olivier Gourmet (who plays the boss).
  • Trailer – (1:04) The original theatrical trailer for “Rosetta”.


“Rosetta – The Criterion Collection #621” comes with a 16-page booklet with the following essay “Radical Economy” by Kent Jones.

A heartbreaking and realistic portrayal of a young woman in despair and a true representation of many who are starving and doing all they can to survive in today’s world.

Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne managed to create a film that resonates strongly, even moreso today because of its portrayal of a young woman’s life of just wanting to work and survive.  The desperation that sets in, in the minds of many people knowing that are close to losing everything around them and are powerless.

Rosetta is can only get temporary jobs and when she does look for a job, they are only looking for people who are long-term unemployed.

And how far will someone go to get a job?  Would you kill someone?  Would you wish for one to get injured?  If you were in desperation mode, how far would you go?  Would you kill yourself?

And part of the efficacy of “Rosetta” is the fact that the Dardenne brothers didn’t want the film to seem like a film.  The casting of new actress Émilie Dequenne is part of what makes “Rosetta” seem authentic.  At the time, she was not an experienced actress.  She just tried out for a role, not knowing if she would get it.  And for an unknown, she gave the performance of her life.  Playing a young woman who lives a poor life, living with a mother who constantly drinks and having sex with men and literally out of control.

She wants to be the person in charge, but at her young age, everything constantly works against her.  She doesn’t have money to pay the bills, she doesn’t have money to eat much and thus she tries to collect trout through a hidden trap in muddy waters.  Her life is primarily spent on looking for a job and when she gets one, she is let go because the jobs are temporary and she tries to stay at the job at all costs, even though she must be forcibly removed.

The film was made in 1999, but how many people around the world can sympathize with Rosetta?  During this day and age with weak world economies, Rosetta is a young woman that is representative of many young adults.  And while many young adults are seen moving back home, Rosetta lives at home but her mother is just mentally out of it.  She is always drunk and for the most part, she is out of it.

We see Rosetta experiencing the job of finding a job, the heartbreaking emotions of losing a job and also having a mother that is not there.  No one is there for her, except a young man named Riquet.  A guy that is so nice to her that he gives her free waffles, let’s her stay at his place, feeds her, even goes as far as wanting to pay her money doing some unofficial work for him, so he can help her out.

But for Rosetta, her validation is not friendship, it’s about holding a full-time job.  A job that proves to her that she can survive in society and then possibly get the medical treatment that her mother needs.

And of course, there is more to this film than what I have mentioned so far.  From character interaction and seeing how Rosetta deals with her problem and the things that go through her mind, it’s a realistic portrayal about a desperate young woman.  We learn why she has this mindset leading to her actions, can we sympathize with her?  Should we be critical of her?

It’s important to note that “Rosetta” also marks an earlier Dogme filmmaking style of the Dardenne brothers.  From camera positions, to the use of handheld camera filmmaking, it’s a style that helped this independent film give a voyeuristic approach of being around the character and exposing of her problems in life.  The camera never leaves Rosetta, it’s with her when she is looking for a job, it’s focused on her when she is dealing with customers, it’s with her when she is having stomach pains.  The camera is fixed on Rosetta most of the time.

And it’s a style that was quite effective.  Many cinema fans were astounded by this realistic style and storyline that not only established the careers for both Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne but also actress Émilie Dequenne.  But also earned them an award at the Cannes Film Festival.

As for the Blu-ray release,  the 1999 film looked great on Blu-ray.  The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track is dialogue-driven and is crystal clear.  And special features also showcase 2012 interviews with the Dardenne brothers, Émilie Dequenne and Fabrizio Rongione.

Overall, “Rosetta” is a fantastic earlier award-winning film for both Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne.  Sometimes slice of life films may not appeal to everyone and for those so used to the banality of Hollywood films and seeing the rags-to-riches storyline, I’ll tell you right now, “Rosetta” is not that type of film.

It’s a film that doesn’t focus on answering questions of how life would end up for Rosetta.  It’s a slice of life film showcasing a desperate woman who is up to her wit’s end because of her inability of finding a job.  And how far she would go in order to get a job.  It’s a film that relies on actress Émilie Dequenne being at her best by acting natural, not overacting but putting herself in the shoes of a woman who feels that life is too difficult.

I have no doubt that for many people today, seeing as how many people are affected by their country’s economy, can sympathize with Rosetta, because many people are suffering like her or worse today compared to the late dot-com ’90s where I found some people scratching their heads when watching this review and wondering why this film was such a big deal.

“Rosetta” is a film that doesn’t follow a Hollywood traditional style of filmmaking.  This is a character that is suffering and we, as the viewer, are constantly following Rosetta and wonder what moral choices she will make, in order to survive.  How far will she go?  It is reminiscent to Italian Neorealism featuring the challenges of the poor, but in this case, a documentary realism style approach, cinema avant-garde style shooting via handheld and showcasing a young woman who is alone, abandoned and devoid of hope.  Does hope even exist for young Rosetta?

Heartbreaking and real, Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne’s award-winning film “Rosetta” is a compelling film featuring a wonderful performance by newcomer Émilie Dequenne.  Highly recommended!

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