Tori and Lokita’s life is full of contradictions: they are together, but totally alone in a France that does not want to know about them. They are not family, but they are more brothers than many by blood. They are survivors that no one is interested in seeing survive. The new thing about the Dardennes is a portrait that is much more bitter than sweet, which instead of romanticizing or over-dramatizing, narrates a nightmare between social drama and thriller as unexpected as it is painful.
Looking for an Eden that doesn’t exist
There’s a fine line between the well-narrated, exciting and open-minded social complaint and the simple pamphlet. Of the second we have a rather hilarious case this year in the Spanish ‘On the margins’which was sinful of obvious and unexciting: its characters were limited to repeating either their misfortune or a scripted Twitter thread. ‘Tori and Lokita’ is the other side of the same coin: their intentions are just as laudable, but the Dardennes know how to pivot so that the center of the story falls on their characters.
If you are a regular of the morning programs on television or go through certain dark areas of social networks surely the word “ore” causes you all kinds of negative feelings. ‘Tori and Lokita’ does not try to crush your prejudices through the repetition of mantras or direct opposition, but with a simple story of two people rejected by an entire country who have no choice but to get into shady deals. They don’t want to be there, but they have no choice. The ball that does not stop spinning and gets bigger every time.
The film could use Lokita’s lack of papers or the government’s refusal to bring them together as a learning attempt for a viewer who probably isn’t even watching it out of pure prejudice, but instead does something very clever: build using the social drama as a foundation. Tori does not get the French residence, she owes money to whoever took her there, she cannot help her mother, but the easy thing would be to make her tragedy the center of the story, something that would have been intuited as a simple preaching to the faithful in one case and as a direct attack in the other. From this sadly mundane drama, ‘Tori and Lokita’ blossoms.
We’ll stay together, it’s what’s worked
‘Tori and Lokita’ always moves between other lives, with two characters who continually try to find their meaning in a society that does not want to consider them its problem. And when everyone turns their heads to the opposite side, there is no choice but to try to raise their own and pull forward as best they can: in this case, with affairs that cannot end well.
Tori and Lokita are outcasts who have never wanted to see themselves in that situation. are found being kids who have been denied a life where they were promised they would find a new opportunitypeople who from the moment they were born and without knowing it, were already condemned to the bad looks, to society looking over their shoulders, to dine on leftover Italian food, to deal with drugs, to the lack of constant love.
And the Dardenne brothers do not deal with the problem by taking them between cloths and forcing tears: everything that happens in the movie seems real because we are all aware that there are tens of thousands of cases like this. From here on, the tape does not loosen an unbearable tension: for each breath and tender moment, a direct hit that is stronger and stronger in the soul. There is one word to define ‘Tori and Lokita’ in an impeccable way: devastating.
Refugees (not so) welcome
Do not think for a moment with that definition that the film is one of those to which you have to take handkerchiefs and in which you are going to cry a lot: there are many ways to be devastating. In this case, the footage is never an exaggerated or moralizing drama, but instead turns between the nooks and crannies to bring an exquisite naturalness that mutates into a more than worthy thriller and culminates in the best possible way.
The two protagonists of the film (spectacular Pablo Schils and Joely Mbundu) are not mere stereotypes or blank characters interchangeable for any other. The tender moments and fleeting moments of happiness between the two (Tori’s song, the sneaky dinners, the brief flashes of optimism) make them grow and their personalities are more than believable: real.
‘Tori and Lokita’ talks about the margins of society in a way as sad as it is emotional, as heartbreaking as it is groundbreaking. A prodigy that reveals the sublime level of independent cinema this year, although being aware that there will be many who ignore it due to their own prejudices. Honestly, at this point, they are missing out. Others, enjoy the new from the Dardenne. There is a lot to be happy and surprised about in the cinema of 2022.
We want to say thanks to the author of this short article for this outstanding material
‘Tori and Lokita’: the Dardennes make the best kind of social cinema possible, as real and emotional as it is devastating