Two young Africans exiled in Belgium must navigate treacherous waters in the Dardennes’ latest social realist work, which is as clear-eyed and powerful as some of their finest output.
Cast: Pablo Schils, Joely Mbundu, Alban Ukaj
Plot: In Belgium today, a young boy and an adolescent girl who have travelled alone from Africa pit their invincible friendship against the cruel conditions of their exile.
Awards: Won 75th Anniversary Prize & Nom. for Palme d’Or (Cannes)
International Sales: Wild Bunch
Subject Matter: Moderate – Exile in Foreign Land; Exploitation; Drug Trade
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse
Viewed: Screener – Singapore Film Society
The Dardennes’ Tori and Lokita continues the Belgian duo’s impressive streak of social realist dramas. Not as well-received critically as some of their best works (probably because it might feel like more of the same from the brothers), their latest effort is, in my books, as cleared-eyed and powerful as their finest output. At this stage, every film from them is a microscopic reminder of how problematic our world still is.
The two main titular characters carry the film’s lean narrative—Tori is a young boy, while Lokita is an older girl who befriends him. To the outside world, they give the illusion that they are biological siblings. In their own world, they are indeed almost like brother and sister, showing incredible empathy for each other when there is none in the Belgian city where they are currently exiled.
“Why won’t they give me my papers, Tori?”
Fleeing from Africa, they resort to working for an F&B owner who uses them to courier drugs to his clients. In need of ‘official papers’ to exist in the country (which Tori already appears to possess), Lokita finds herself at the mercy of these thugs.
Efficiently told, and with excellent performances by first-time actors Pablo Schils and Joely Mbundu, Tori and Lokita feels so intimate and authentic that at some point you might think that these are real people with aspirations but are unfortunately dealt with a bad hand in life.
Having money appears to be the only way up the capitalistic ladder, so they continue to work and earn whatever meagre income they can. Work is work, illegal or not. The Dardennes, in trademark fashion, rachets up the suspense in the final act, culminating in a climax that will leave you at a loss for words.