Hard to shake ingenuous, unaffected performance by young actress in tragic Belgian import
It seems I'm a sucker for foreign films about female innocence and tragedy.
In 1996, "Breaking the Waves" -- the emotionally exhausting story of a simple Scottish girl's moral descent in the wake of her loving husband's paralysis -- left me devastated, yet I saw it several times.
The next year a French film about a 4-year-old girl in denial about her mother's death broke my heart. That movie was called "Ponette," and I saw it more than once as well.
In a way, the Belgian import "Rosie" makes something of a personal trilogy when slipped between the other two titles. It's the story of a 13-year-old girl with an ingrained desire to please her inconstant mother, whose immature fantasies of romance with an older boy drive her to emotional instability and dire acts of desperation.
The thing that ties these three films together is literally stunning performances from the lead actresses that compel you to want to jump through the screen and rescue the tragic heroines yourself.
In "Rosie," said performance comes courtesy of Aranka Coppens, a simple beauty in early bloom (she looks like a young Mira Sorvino) with incredible natural range that is put to the test in this challenging debut role.
Rosie is a girl with one foot in childhood and the other in puberty. Fiercely dedicated to her 30-ish mother (Sara de Roo), who insists they pretend to be sisters so as not to dampen her dating life, Rosie still spends much of her time wandering the industrial outskirts of Antwerp, obsessively fantasizing about creating a romantic domestic life with Jimi (Joost Wijnant), a pretty, troubled, older boy she spots on a city bus.
But writer-director Patrice Toye lets us know in the first scene that Rosie's fate may not be a happy one. Even before we get to know her as erratic but girly, optimistic and driven by hope (in the flashbacks that tell the bulk of the story), Toye shows us Rosie in the present -- living in a girls' detention center where she has become sullen, taciturn and insolent and where her cascading locks of brown hair have been cut into a severe, Journey-groupie mop.
The movie maps how this darling girl's turbulent imagination (she even makes up a story about being raped to get attention at school) and her desire to see her mother contented begin to overwhelm her precarious psyche, leading her down a dangerous path.
Toye's deceptively simple direction mixes the bleak realism of Rosie's tenement lifestyle with a dose of tenderness and delicacy that encourages the audience's parental vibe as the movie probes this girl's emotional instability that stems, in part, from her unfulfilled need for some kind of decent role model.
But it's Coppens' ingenuous, unaffected portrayal of Rosie that makes the movie captivating. She artlessly juxtaposes her character's naivete, her budding sexuality and her growing dysfunction with the harsh reality of the juvie facility Rosie finds herself in after her fantasy world wreaks havoc on her reality.
As with Emily Watson's career-making turn in "Breaking the Waves" and angelic Victoire Thivisol's unfeigned portrayal of little "Ponette," you walk away from "Rosie" affected in a way that's hard to shake because Coppens makes this girl feel all too tangible.