Tori And Lokita


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Tori and Lokita
"While exploitation is expertly outlined, the directors are never exploitative themselves in the way it is depicted." | Photo: Courtesy of Cannes Film Festival

The Dardennes Brothers are old hands at taking a big theme and turning it into something pressing and intimate, from the job loss cauldron of Two Days, One Night to radicalisation in Young Ahmed.

This time around they come at the multiple threats faced by refugees through the experiences of two children. Teenager Lokita (Joely Mbundu) is trying to achieve the same refugee status in Belgium as her younger brother Tori (Pablo Schils), who was accused in his homeland of being a sorceror. The problem for Lokita is that the authorities don’t believe she is his sister. The Dardennes show how the legality of the bond is irrelevant to the kids themselves, who have spent their long journey from Africa looking out for one another. Siblings or not, these two have one another’s backs.

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It’s just as well, since nobody else does. As the legal process cranks away, the pair of them are pushed into illegality, dealing drugs for Betim (Alban Ukaj), who uses a pizza business as a front in order to pay traffickers. As so often in Dardennes’ films, the children are the only ones with any sort of moral compass. The Belgian immigrations system might only be casually cruel but it’s the slow-moving nature of that which pushes the youngsters further into trouble, as Betim sees a way to further exploit his command over them by enlisting Lokita to work - in isolation for three months - at a cannabis farm in the middle of nowhere.

This situation, inevitably, leads Tori to take matters into his own hands in ways that bring the pair under even greater threat. Their world becomes a jungle where each animal seems to be having a turn at eating them. The Dardennes' unfussy shooting style adds to the tension and the immediacy of the children’s performances, even though there's the sense of a tried-and-testd blueprint at work. While exploitation is expertly outlined, the directors are never exploitative themselves in the way it is depicted, making Betim’s sexual advances towards Lokita all the more ominous in the process. She shows the fragility of a character trying to remain strong for someone else, with the Dardennes’ simplicity of ideas bringing the full weight of emotion to the connection she and Tori have through a lullaby or a photograph.

The Dardennes don’t let anyone off the hook, not the authorities, who are peversely more interested in the children’s history than their current wellbing, nor the church the traffickers seem to be using as a cover. It takes a lot to crush this sort of positive energy, they suggest, but the world Tori and Lokita inhabit unfortunately seems to view that as a challenge.

Reviewed on: 02 Dec 2022
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In Belgium today, a young boy and an adolescent girl who have travelled alone from Africa pit their invincible friendship against the difficult conditions of their exile.
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Director: Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne

Writer: Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne

Starring: Marc Zinga, Claire Bodson, Baptiste Sornin, Schils Pablo, Mbundu Joely

Year: 2022

Runtime: 88 minutes

Country: France, Belgium

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