Tori and Lokita: Dardenne brothers’ heart-rending tale of misused immigrants

Not since the first decade of the century, with searing dramas such as L’Enfant and The Son, have the directors delivered something so abrasively moving

Tori and Lokita
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Director: Luc Dardenne, Jean-Pierre Dardenne
Cert: 15A
Starring: Pablo Schils, Mbundu Joely, Charlotte De Bruyne, Tijmen Govaerts Alban Ukaj
Running Time: 1 hr 29 mins

The latest film from the Dardenne brothers, a heart-rending tale of misused immigrants in contemporary Belgium, arrives just two weeks after Frank Berry’s Aisha pondered similar misfortunes in Ireland. Both are roughly in the social-realist mode, but the tone and the perspectives are quite different. Berry was more concerned with process and bureaucracy. His film was also more generous to the surrounding world. There were no clear villains in Aisha. After decades in the business – and 25 years at the height of their powers – Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne are altogether less forgiving in their approach. Of course the system here is crocked, but the world through which the two young African heroes move is teeming with everyday exploiters and casual cynics. You search the screen for anyone who cares.

It is an awful irony that almost everybody wants something from these kids who have literally nothing. There are flavours of Charles Dickens in the way the pair’s relationship is centred as the only true thing in an otherwise fatally unkind society. Dickens’ flaw was sentimentality. The Dardennes’ continues to be a reliance on unlikely contrivance. We get a bit of that here, but not since the first decade of the century – with searing dramas such as L’Enfant and The Son – have they delivered something so abrasively moving.

Mbundu Joely plays the teenage Lokita who, having helped the younger Tori (Pablo Schils) while both were travelling north from different countries, is now posing as his sister in order to secure residency papers. We begin with an immigration official interrogating Lokita about her path to Europe. It slowly becomes clear that she is working hard to give answers that confirm her familial connection to young Tori.

The Dardennes do not give their villains flashy ties or expensive suits. The people smugglers, still bleeding our friends dry, operate out of a local church. A local cook, moonlighting as a drug dealer, has them distributing dope around the city with the pizzas and the garlic bread. The story really kicks in when Lokita is sent to work as a “gardener” at an intensive, warehoused cannabis farm. She is left without her pal for the first time in months. The establishment is against them. So is the underworld.

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke, a contributor to The Irish Times, is Chief Film Correspondent and a regular columnist