Riveting performances from two immigrant youngsters posing as brother and sister.
There’s a sibling connection between two youngsters who aren’t actually related, but feel like they are, and are threatened by bad people in “Tori and Lokita,” the latest feature from the Dardenne brothers (Jean-Paul and Luc), the geniuses behind “L’Enfant” and “Two Days, One Night.” And while the movie doesn’t reach as high as those gems, it still has us watching and wondering how these these two characters can pull off a plan during the following circumstances.
The title characters are African immigrants, who find themselves posing as siblings in a Belgium city, in which the older sibling Lokita (Mbundu Joely) suffers more than who is supposed to be her younger brother Tori (Pablo Schils). She suffers from panic attacks, which is why she has pills and Tori to support her. And they both sing an Italian song, which helps them go to sleep. These two need each other now more than ever.
She struggles to get a work visa to send money to her mother to send her brothers to school back home, but has to have a price debt to the people who smuggled her and Tori And one prick, in particular, is Betim (Alban Ukaj), who runs a restaurant to cover up his weed operation. Not only does he sometimes pay Lokita for sex (that ****ing pig), but also he prevents her from making contact with Tori by locking her in a hangar. That’s quite an inconvenience for her, because hearing Tori’s voice is her comfort blanket. But lucky for her, he’s the resourceful kid.
I can’t speak for any immigrant movie characters, but I have seen their challenges, based on laws and logistics. For example, the Mexican film “I Carry You with Me” was about a gay immigrant who travels illegally to the United States, and is eventually given the consequence: that he can’t return home and then come back to the States. Lokita, here, is so stressed and scared of losing her family and her chance at a good life, that she can barely stand up for herself against the main pig. We can already tell she’s a frightened young woman in the opening when she’s interviewed at the visa office.
I don’t like how the main heroine has to be depicted this way, especially when women can be strong, but the performance from Joely makes her emotional and reserved. And she also has Schils backing her up whenever he can, while he does some charming work on his own terms.
The Dardenne brothers have directed movies that run for less than 2 hours (somewhere between 85 minutes to 104 minutes), and yet, they’re so beautifully told and acted with genuine realism and humanity. “Tori and Lokita” runs for an hour and 25 minutes, and yet, it wasn’t boring or rushed. It has us angry at the Lokita’s mistreatment, entertained by Tori’s flexibility, moved by their connection, and sad at their despair.
I like its choice of food (as the fake siblings get free focaccia from the busy Betim), how the French and Belgium languages have balance in the characters, and how the weed plantations are filmed and have their chores. You can tell the game Tori and Lokita both get themselves in is dangerous, and someone is likely to get hurt. But you also want to see them under the filmmakers’ directions and moral and immoral decisions.
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