Tori and Lokita
Double-Palme d’Or winners Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne’s drama finds them on top form as they chart two youngsters’ attempts to live a decent life.
Tori (Pablo Schils) and Lokita (Joely Mbundu) struggle to get by in an unnamed Belgian city. One is from Benin and the other Cameroon. They met on a boat coming over from West Africa and have successfully passed themselves off as siblings to immigration authorities, even if Lokita’s story of how she rescued Tori from an orphanage is barely credible. They scrape a living working for Betim (Alban Ukaj), whose restaurant is a front for a successful illicit drugs operation; in addition to enchanting diners with karaoke performances, Tori and Lokita also help deliver Betim’s merchandise around the city. When Lokita’s attempts to access legitimate paperwork falter, she turns to Betim, whose relationship with her is already coercive. What he offers threatens the stability of her relationship with Tori.
At their best, in films like Rosetta, The Child and The Kid with a Bike, the Dardennes combine a sense of injustice with compassion and taut storytelling, as they illustrate lives on the periphery of ‘civilised’ society. It’s in the depth of characterisation that the writer-directors draw us into their protagonists’ world. Tori and Lokita’s actions are never judged – they do what they do to survive. It’s in the richness of their portrayal that we understand the two could have led very different lives. The Dardennes compassion, evident throughout, is enhanced by Schils and Mbundu’s performances, conveying the pair’s desperation in the most pitiful circumstances.
Winner of a special 75th Anniversary Prize at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival, Tori and Lokita is unsentimental, humanist cinema at its best.