Directed by: Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne
Distributed by: Janus Films
Written by Taylor Baker
Newcomers Pablo Schils and Joely Mbundu play “Tori and Lokita,” two immigrants to Belgium eking out an existence between the lines of laws and institutions while Lokita works her way through the purgatory that is immigration in Belgium. Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne are known for their humanistic narratives and unflinching portraits of life under an unspecific but apparent line of wealth and happiness. In “Tori and Lokita” they once again show rather than tell, as brother and sister walk around selling drugs to send money back home to family, try to pay off their smugglers, and try to afford any modicum of comfort on the streets of Belgium.
It’s not clear just how Tori or Lokita came to meet one another or the circumstances of their life preceding the film outside of a few snippets of the harshness they fled in Africa. What is apparent and special about the films of the Dardenne brothers is that despite knowing they’re not technically family the cinematic experience that the brothers take you on with these kids is exactly the experience that denotes a term like family. I don’t think one could watch the film in its entirety and come out the other side attempting to refute the claim and repeated assertion, especially by Lokita that Tori is her brother. And likewise, the actions of Tori are precisely those of a brother. Comprised of lingering fluid cinematography letting scenes breathe where others wouldn’t conjures a true sense of life and locality, while deftly cutting away during harrowing scenes involving Lokita and sexual abuse. They manage to say more by showing less. In a world without the Coen Brothers, it’s nice to know we can still rely on the moral plays and sincerity of the Dardenne’s.
Part of what makes the Dardenne’s unique if not outright special is their ability to tell an engrossing tale without restraining the world their characters inhabit. Tori and Lokita truly feel alive, though the film seems to begin as a courtroom procedural with all the unique and engaging cinematographic sequences that courtroom and interrogation scenes have always held, the film evolves, circumstances change, and so do the camera choices. But it all feels wrinkled together like a freshly dried sheet laying on your bed in a bundle, cohesive and connected but different in shape as you run along its length. The film never quite evolves past that undefinable search for acceptance by a nation, that is Lokita wanting her Belgium immigration papers, but it does always underline and cement that these two, brother and sister both are people. Humans. And that to treat them any other way makes you the villain. In fact, the film seems to show if not overtly say that by not allowing someone seeking refuge in your nation you’re leaving their body to belong to everyone but themselves and the nation.
“Tori and Lokita” Trailer