Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne’s ‘Tori and Lokita’, which competed at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival, has been released. This time, the signature humanism of the Belgian directorial duet, always not indifferent to social injustice, seemed to Julia Schagelman quite formal.
The Dardenne brothers are living classics of social cinema about “little people” thrown to the sidelines of the ruthless capitalist system. Such movies are loved at festivals, because it is especially pleasant to sympathize with the humiliated and offended, walking in tuxedos and evening dresses along some Croisette. In Cannes, the brothers are regulars: in 1999 they received the Palme d’Or for Rosetta, and since then almost no Belgian film has remained without a prize. “Tori and Lokita”, of course, were also awarded – a special prize in honor of the 75th anniversary of the Cannes Film Festival: if someone else had to be awarded for creative achievements, then the Dardennes can always be praised for their good intentions.
They again call for mercy for the fallen – this time in the most direct text, when at the end of the film, little Tori (Pablo Schilz) says in a broken voice that all the tragic events unfolding in the previous hour and a half would not have happened , if his named sister Lokita (Joely Mbundu) would simply immediately be given the documents necessary for naturalization. As you know, there are no simple solutions, but who dares to hint about it when on the screen an unfortunate child, bursting into tears, sings a naive song, reminiscent of how little good things were in his short life?
The picture begins with Lokita’s interview at the immigration service. The camera holds the girl in close-up, we do not see the faces of the employees interrogating her: a living person is confronted in the literal sense by a faceless system, “just doing its job.” She does not believe that Tori and Lokita are brother and sister (they really are not relatives and generally came from different countries, but a non-existent relationship would help Lokita get the documents that the boy already has). Blood ties are not so important in comparison with how heroes have become attached to each other, who have no one else in the whole world. However, this is not an argument for officials, Lokita leaves empty-handed, and her and Tori’s torment in the nameless and indifferent Belgian city continues.
There they are surrounded exclusively by villains, many of whom just as “come in large numbers” as Tori and Lokita, only settled better. For example, Betim (Alban Ukay), a cook in an Italian restaurant and part-time drug dealer, whose named brother and sister work as couriers. He also takes advantage of the girl’s helpless position to force her to have sex. Or traffickers Firmin (Mark Zinga) and Justine (Nadej Ouedraogo), extorting money from Lokita for bringing her and Tori to Belgium.
Desperate, Lokita decides to buy fake documents, but for this she has to work for a month as a “gardener” on an illegal marijuana plantation. There, her phone is taken away and she is deprived of the opportunity to communicate with her brother, and although he finds a way to get to her, only new misfortunes follow.
The film seems to have all the usual components of style Dardenne: unknown but very organic debuting actors in the lead roles, shooting with a hand-held camera in the “believe blue” style, an honest demonstration of social ills. The only thing missing is such hard-to-define things as empathy and sincerity – the film seems to be just a habitually drummed lesson on a given topic. What’s wrong with such countless Tories and Lokit, to whom wealthy people in tuxedos have again condescended, is another uncomfortable question that is not customary to ask.