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Despite an excellent lead performance by actress Daphne Agten, Flemish film Holy Rosita lacks the thematic heft and coherence to make it into a truly memorable and touching social drama.

There is a scene in the final act of Holy Rosita, where the titular character – a mentally challenged woman who wants to become a mother – sits sobbing in a swimming pool cafeteria, thinking she’ll loose everything. Even if the scene last but 30 seconds, it will break your heart. And yet, its power is an anomaly in the otherwise narratively and emotionally underdeveloped film.

The failings of Holy Rosita cannot be blamed on lead actress Daphne Agten, who gives it her all in a role that is a constant tightrope act: the character is fierce yet vulnerable, headstrong yet constantly afraid of being belittled. It’s no easy feat to get every nuance of Rosita right, but Agten mostly pulls it off.

She is unfortunately not helped by a screenplay that cuts a few too many corners to be plausible. How realistic is it after all that none of the people surrounding the title character – not social services, not her foster parents, not the authorities – ever stop to ask questions about Rosita’s behaviour, let alone encourage her, as the film occasionally shows?

Debut feature director Wannes Destoop thus appears to have taken a naïve premise – is someone like Rosita fit for motherhood? – and pieced the rest of the film together just to get his point on that subject across, irrespective of plausibility. One can’t help but wonder what a more seasoned director like Ken Loach would have done with this.

This becomes even more obvious in the far too non-committal denouement, which feels less like a pleasing end point for Rosita’s story and more like the beginning of a better, dramatically more interesting narrative that Destoop frustratingly never explores.

release: 2024

director: Wannes Destoop

starring: Daphne Agten, Mieke De Groote, Janne Desmet, Jos Geens


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