Review: Tori and Lokita
- CANNES 2022: Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne return to the fundamentals of their filmmaking with a impressively refined story about two children who were left behind
For this 9th selection in the Cannes Film Festival competition, Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, two times Palme d’or recipients for Rosetta and The Child [+see also:
interview: Luc & Jean-Pierre Dardenne
film profile] return with Tori and Lokita [+see also:
interview: Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne
film profile], a punchy film, which could easily be included in the very best of their impressive filmography.
Lokita is sixteen years old. She fled Benin for Belgium. But what exactly did she flee? This world, the life she left behind, the things she endured, survived; are they enough for her to have earned a residence permit? No, not today, not here, not in Europe. So Lokita searches for ways that will allow her to stay, to continue hoping for a new life. She clings to Tori, a young man with whom she shared the paths of exile. He was chased from his home because he is suspected of witchcraft. She develops a fraternal relationship with this abandoned, rejected child, a kind of refuge to face the present and to dream of the future.
The two children craft a story about their feelings for each other to allow them to continue their journey together. Together, they write a future, a modest future where Lokita will follow a training as a housekeeper, which will allow her to take care of Tori. Unless it's Tori, who by his determination, stubbornness and drive takes care of Lokita.
But nothing is simple. The story imagined by Tori and Lokita is tarnished when she is interrogated by the Foreign Office. And the money they hoped for will quickly be spent repaying debts and sent to their family back home. Alone against all, Tori and Lokita explore all possible ways to pay their dues and to stay together. Lokita goes so far as to accept the proposal of an unscrupulous restaurateur dealer, who leaves her in absolute solitude in an abandonned warehouse to take care of a cannabis plantation.
She is the gardener, the one that we "bury", that we hide from the eyes of the world. Separated from Tori, subjected to sexual blackmail from Betim (Alban Ukaj) who promises her false papers, she is locked up, isolated, exploited. On his end, Tori cannot bring himself to lose the woman who has become his anchor, his new country. He searches for her, even imagining a drug traffic that will precipitate the two young children into an inferno.
Tori and Lokita, played by two young firstcomers, Pablo Schils and Joely Mbundu, are both the two heroes of Dardenne’s film. So are all the children, the young women, the exiles and all the migrants. They are those who are silenced, ignored, hidden. Those whose dream of a new life makes people uncomfortable.
The filmmakers return to a refined style of cinema with film, by getting as close as possible to their two protagonists, marrying their movements, Tori’s permanent battle and Lokita’s resistance. It’s a style which focuses on movement, with few narrative springs yet extremely tense, 90 minutes of dramatic intensity that comes from a few glances, a song, and a skilful ending, a crushing end, which claims the political scope of the film, the commitment of the directors when it comes to questioning our relationship with others. The film ends in a cry; it’s a call, an artistic gesture, a fictional plea to review our migration policies, and (re)awaken our conscience. A dramatic tale, a parable, a humane and societal thriller on the fundamental, economic, social and racial injustices which are at the heart of today’s society.
(Translated from French by Margaux Comte)
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