The Movie Waffler New to VOD - TORI AND LOKITA | The Movie Waffler


Two young African migrants bond while struggling to build a new life in Belgium.

Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne

Starring: Pablo Schils, Joely Mbundu, Charlotte De Bruyne, Tijmen Govaerts, Alban Ukaj, Marc Zinga

Tori and Lokita poster

In 2021, there were a total of 19,265 asylum applications in Belgium, a figure which had almost tripled over the last decade of the European migrant crisis. Of that number, around 41% of applicants successfully qualified for asylum in Belgium. So, about a third got in, with two thirds either deported or more likely living underground as part of the gig economy, along with the significant amount of other asylum seekers who remain unrecorded. Reports suggest that the figure will rise before the end of this year, which will further catalyse Belgium’s ‘major refugee crisis’: the European Court of Human Rights has already sanctioned the Federal Government for its lack of care shown to asylum seekers. Yes, the situation is pretty bleak. But here’s the latest film from Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Tori and Lokita. Hopefully it will provide some much needed cheer in these times of human suffering and uncertainty.

Fat chance.

Tori and Lokita review

The Dardenne Brothers, with their background in documentary and staunch left-wing ideologies, create naturalistic films with strong social messages: narratives which are intensely researched, shot with a verité eye, and which challenge both their audience and the status quo. An actual law regarding labour protection for young workers was named after their film Rosetta, a cheering reminder that art can influence and guide social discourse. In Tori and Lokita the Dardennes focus on two child asylum seekers, the eponymous Tori (Pablo Schils) a boy of about 10, and Lokita (Mbundu Joely), his around-fifteenish ‘sister’. The two are not related but met on the boat from Benin, and with Tori’s ‘protected’ status, are working together to bolster the chances of Lokita staying. They study hard and engage with the ongoing bureaucracy of their migrant status, but, however, are sadly privy to the criminal excesses of the aforementioned gig economy. One evening, following an unbearably sweet karaoke session from the two in a Liège restaurant (which reinforces the naivety of the pair), the establishment’s chef taps up the pair to distribute drugs for him under the guise of pizza delivery.

Tori and Lokita review

This is the just beginning of a sequence of exploitation that eventually sees Lokita imprisoned and working in isolation on a weed farm. Along the way, she will be blackmailed into sexual acts by her imprisoners, who turn the illegality of her situation to their advantage, essentially making her a child sex worker. Lokita’s lack of papers means that she is unable to obtain gainful employment, and so, to send money home to her family, she is given little recourse but to be lassoed into this vicious circle. Could there be a stronger argument for more humane protection of migrants, and for the legalisation of controlled substances (which would cut out unscrupulous middlemen, and, if taxed appropriately high, could bolster anyone’s economy; after all, the market forces which encourage cheaper and cheaper product evidently leads to scared kids exhorted into cheap labour, working for scum whom I’m sure we’d all rather didn’t get rich)? Thankfully, the rape scenes occur just off screen, and the prior moments are filmed with a dead eyed stoicism to exemplify the lazy evil of these profiteers: there is nothing particularly sexual or desirous in the act, they impose on Lokita because they know they can.

Tori and Lokita review

There have been critical grumbles that the Dardennes are merely covering old ground with Tori and Lokita, repeating themselves with a narrative bearing similarity to previous works. To those reviewers I say, what you fucking on about? This is what they do! And they do it to perfection. Unlike their British counterpart, Ken Loach, there is a lack of hyperbole in their production, an absence of sentimentality. What, you want them to diversify into science-fiction or something? Get real. With its clear-headed depiction of lazy human cruelty, its un-sensationalised presentation of existing situations, it feels almost churlish to ‘review’ Tori and Lokita, a film as accomplished as it is essential in its informative rhetoric.

Tori and Lokita is on UK/ROI VOD now.