Cannes 2022

Tori and Lokita review – furious outcry against the hostile treatment of young immigrants

The Dardennes' latest is a bare and brutal slice of social realism about two migrants who pass themselves off as brother and sister

Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne have defined their careers by bringing social issues and leftist ideals to light, with a harrowing simplicity that is nigh-on impossible to argue with. A Cannes mainstay, they’re in an exclusive club of eight filmmakers that have won the Palme d’Or twice, while their other works have continually picked up gongs for screenplay and direction over the years. It’s a marvel, then, that their pared-back approach continues to produce agonizing and refined works that feel urgent and affecting time after time. Tori and Lokita is no different, a bare and brutal slice of social realism which exposes the cruelty of the Belgian immigration system.

Played by young newcomers Pablo Schils and Mbundu Joely, our titular characters, Tori and Lokita, are immigrant children who must fight to survive and settle in an unforgiving new city. Despite temporary residence in a migrant centre for children, the pair are forced into a harrowing cycle of sexual abuse, drug trafficking and slavery in order to pay back their smugglers and send money to Lokita’s mother and five siblings who remain in West Africa.

While Tori has been given his immigration documents because he was a “persecuted sorcerer child,” authorities refuse to believe that Lokita is his sister, a ruse the pair concocted in order to stay together. Meaning her deportation is imminent, she is subsequently forced – in several terrifying, heart-sinking scenes – to spend three months alone in an inhospitable marijuana factory in order to earn the money her corrupt drug trafficker demands to secure her fake papers.

Siphoned off from Tori and prone to attacks of anxiety, Joely is commanding as Lokita: in a highly difficult role, she opens the film with an unflinching long-take and follows it with several scenes that even veteran actors would find paralyzing to take part in. Tori and Lokita is indeed a tough watch, and some might point out that these two older white men have no business telling this story. But to disparage this film for the cruel treatment of its young Black characters would be a wilful simplification when this is the reality and level of corruption and cruelty happening within the country. Nor is this misery porn: it is, as are the vast majority of the Dardennes' works, an angry outcry and an act of exposure. The film doesn’t care whether this pair should or deserve to stay in the country – this is irrelevant – and there is no extra-diegetic music, no frills, no cheap attempts to pull on our heartstrings in a way that is unrealistic or unearned.

The Dardennes put a face, name, and story to the young, vulnerable migrants that Belgian media anonymizes. We don’t end this film merely feeling sad: it engenders a sharp feeling of revolt. With conversation-stopping clarity, we are told that Europe’s inhumane obsession with borders and labyrinthine immigration processes are a deliberate act of barbarism.

Tori and Lokita was screened as part of the Cannes Film Festival 2022. A UK release date is yet to be announced.

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