Film Review: Tori and Lokita
Belgian filmmakers Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne have spent their careers making films that draw attention to the plight of those living on the margins of European society. With Tori and Lokita they turn their gaze to the struggles of two members of the continent’s migrant community.
Twelve-year-old Tori (Pablo Schils) and 16-year-old Lokita (Joely Mbundu) hail respectively from Cameroon and Benin. Having formed a bond on their journey through Africa and Europe, they hope to settle in Belgium where they pose as brother and sister in the naive hope that they won’t be split up by the authorities.
Lokita harbors modest dreams of working as a home help, but with bureaucrats viewing her story with increasing suspicion, her hopes of staying in Belgium are dwindling. To raise funds to send back home and pay off her traffickers, Lokita sings karaoke and delivers pizzas with Tori for a local restaurant. But the real money comes from the duo acting as drug mules for the restaurant’s chef, Betim (Alban Ukaj), who also pays Lokita for sexual favors. Betim claims he can arrange fake papers for Lokita, but to earn them she must spend three months working on a hidden cannabis farm with no contact with the outside world, including Tori.
You might wish the filmmakers would step in and save the main characters, but to do so would be to deny the cruelty of this world. The Dardennes have no interest in sugar-coating the experiences of those struggling to forge new lives in Europe. Their goal is to force a reaction, to make us think about the hardships endured by the sort of people who are more often presented as statistics than fully realized characters.
Lesser filmmakers may have been happy to employ Tori and Lokita as one-note victims to make a political point, but the Dardennes make sure we get to know them intimately and care for them. Both Tori and Lokita are smart and ambitious—just the sort of young people a government might claim to want in their country—and their bond is genuine.