Directed By: Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne
Starring: Joely Mbundu, Pablo Schils
Plot Summary: From two-time Palme d’Or-winners Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, Tori and Lokita is a heart-stopping thriller that casts an unflinching eye on the trials of the young and dispossessed.
Movies often offer enjoyable escape from the harsh realities of life. However, the medium can also shine a light on some very dark and seedy aspects of real life. From celebrated directors Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne comes an unflinching look at a plight that affects real people. Tori and Lokita is not light popcorn escapism, but rather a damning indictment on the hardship of people being preyed upon simply for seeking a better life for themselves and their family.
What is so striking about this film is how stripped down and matter-of-fact it is. It has a documentary-like quality that serves the narrative extremely well. This cinema-vérité approach to the material is a smart way to really bring home the fact that, for some, this is an all too real issue. Not only that, but the subject matter itself is presented in a way that throws you right into things, never holding the audiences’ hands. The filmmakers do a nice job at explaining various aspects of the narrative for those who may not be intimately familiar with it in a way that feels organic. However, this means that you have to pay close attention, as some major context goes by rather quickly.
There is something cold and detached about this film; often times, like the real world, the bad guys never face justice, and the machine of misery keeps chugging along. Tori and Lokita is cynical in this way, yet it wants people to face the reality of the situation. Watching these characters, especially Lokita, go through day-to-day horrors is uncomfortable, yet one suspects that is the point. We are forced to watch every soul crushing moment, helpless to do anything but watch. In this way, we almost feel complicit from a voyeuristic standpoint.
Tori and Lokita is certainly glued together by its performances. Amazingly, this is the first film for both leads. Joely Mbundu offers up a star-making turn as the titular Lokita. Mbundu has a naturalistic way of tackling the role which really plays nicely with the films documentary style. The young actress knows how to play the drama of a scene without ever going totally over-the-top, nor does she undersell it either. You can see big things for Joely Mbundu if given the breaks. Equally good is Pablo Schils; much like his co-star, Schils brings a realistic and compelling turn as Tori. Together, the pair have a nice chemistry which makes the outcome all the more tragic.
Strangely, the marketing describes this movie as a thriller, which is wildly misleading. Tori and Lokita is a harrowing drama, yes, but nowhere in here is what anyone would deem a tense, white knuckled thriller. You have to guess that summing it up as a bleak journey into man’s cruelty and greed chewing up innocent people doesn’t sell as well.
Tori and Lokita is an important film as it highlights an issue that many, myself included, were not aware of. Despite it being a good film, it is hard to imagine this as a film you return to on a regular basis. It’s the cinema version of eating your veggies. Sure, it’s good for you, but if you’re totally honest with yourself, there is something else you’d rather consume. This is a worthwhile film that never lectures but presents its subjects in a stark and compelling way.
Tori and Lokita is currently playing in select theaters courtesy of Janus Films and Sideshow.
This is a worthwhile film that never lectures but presents its subjects in a stark and compelling way.
Big film nerd and TCM Obsessed. Author of The Ultimate Guide to Strange Cinema from Schiffer Publishing. Resume includes: AMC’s The Bite, Scream Magazine etc. Love all kinds of movies and television and have interviewed a wide range of actors, writers, producers and directors. I currently am a regular co-host on the podcast The Humanoids from the Deep Dive and have a second book in the works from Bear Manor.