“If you had your papers, you would have become a domestic helper in Belgium. Now you’re dead and I’m alone. This sentence of Tori et Lokita, by Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne, slams like a cleaver. It is simple and direct like the cinema of the two Belgian directors. And like the plot: two Beninese children immigrated to Belgium struggle to survive with dignity. They are alone against almost everyone.
Tori and Lokita face the administrative machine in particular. Tori has been accused of being a child wizard in his country. The persecutions of which he was the victim earned him his papers. Lokita, older, does not have them. They pretend to be brother and sister in order to stay together. The circumstances of their meeting during their migration remain unclear, but the connection is born is unwavering.
This chosen family does not fit into the small boxes of the immigration services. The film begins with this striking scene where Lokita is under the fire of questions. What was the name of the principal of his school? How did she find her brother at the orphanage? The slightest contradiction is an incriminating element in what looks like a real interrogation.
Tori and Lokita also face, alone, the profiteers. Lokita dreams of training as a housekeeper. Without papers, she cannot. With Tori, she lives by singing in a pizzeria. After the show, they sell drugs on behalf of the cook. This money, she sends it to her mother back home to meet the needs of her family and is used to reimburse a smuggler who robs her without scruples.
Tori and Lokita are also alone against the absurd. What if Lokita had his papers? Her situation puts her permanently on the alert. She leads a permanent struggle for survival instead of pursuing her ambition. Lokita’s distress is instrumentalized by predators of all kinds. The result: a country with a shortage of household staff does without them for political reasons, feeding criminal networks.
And the hope in all this? He is in the tremendous solidarity between the two children. The resilience they show in overcoming multiple challenges. And the love between them, inseparable, who support each other at all costs. The family is not just a blood tie, it is a community of destinies. And besides this strong relationship, there are the attentions and the little gestures who give faith in humanity in the midst of turmoil: supporters during Lokita’s hearings, a young man who does the short ladder to help escape a threat, another who agrees to endorse a transfer in the name of a minor…
social film, suspense film
Tori et Lokita, it’s almost two movies in one. The first is a social drama, the second is a suspenseful chase. Double winners of the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival for Rosetta (1999) et the child (2005), the Dardenne brothers are faithful to the design that makes their mark. The rhythm is given by an editing alternating sequence shots and more nervous scenes. The calm precedes the storm. The directors are masters of the narrative ellipsis and off-screen.
The Dardenne brothers are also the camera on the shoulder, at the height of women and men. The tight setting is always a challenge as it exposes the actors. Joely Mbundu (Lokita) and Pablo Schils (Tori) had never acted in a film before and it doesn’t show. Their restrained playing provokes great emotions through a minimum of effects.
Tori et Lokita was born from the double observation that 200 to 300 minor children disappear each year in Belgium and that minors in exile suffer from loneliness. The two children have the bad luck and the chance to be alone together. In this last film as in their work, the Dardenne brothers sign an ode to the humanism which sleeps (too) deeply in us.
Tori et Lokita by Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne, released in France since 5 october 2022.