Sunday 4 June 2023

Tori and Lokita [2022]

 Stark tales of illegal refugees – who suffer harrowing conditions, exploitation and apathy as the going rate for hopes of a marginally better life – have been a recurring motif in the Dardenne brothers’ canon. In La Promesse and The Unknown Girl the immigrants existed on the edges, even if their experiences and stories were eloquently and powerfully evoked. In Lorna’s Silence, however, they took the centre-stage, thus amplifying the associated desperation, dehumanization and despair. Tori and Lokita had strong parallels with the latter film in that sense, despite the outward differences – focus on an African kid and adolescent, instead of adults from a “lesser” Europe, and replacement of marital relationship with a found family which, in-sync with the Dardennes’ universe, demonstrated a deep and heart-warming bond. The titular characters are eleven-year-old Tori (Pablo Schils) and sixteen-year-old Lokita (Mbundu Joely) who’ve made the arduous journey from Benin to Belgium only to find themselves ghettoized in a vicious quagmire thanks to jaded immigration authorities that’re reluctant to extend residence permit to Lokita – the two, having developed profound attachment to each other, have positioned themselves as siblings to the cynical authorities – which, in turn, has made them tragically vulnerable to the traffickers chasing them for payments, and a drug racket run by a chef (Alban Ukaj) – in order to pay their mounting debts – who uses them as mules and sexually abuses Lokita. The film’s rare moments of levity – the inseparable duo practicing ways of cracking the immigration interviews or performing a Sicilian song for tourists – were fleeting asides in an otherwise relentlessly bleak, suffocating and downbeat work that, despite being a relatively lesser Dardenne, was undeniable in its painful cry and social urgency.

Directors: Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne

Genre: Drama/Social Drama/Psychological Drama

Language: French

Country: Belgium

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