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Rosalie ★★★★



Released: 7 June 2024

Director: Stéphanie Di Giusto

Starring: Nadia Tereszkiewicz and Benoît Magimel

It is often said beauty is only skin deep. A concept that is severely tested within Stéphanie Di Giusto’s second feature, Rosalie which featured in the Un Certain Regard programme for the 2023 Cannes Film Festival. Rosalie is a powerfully beautiful depiction of pain, suffering, societal prejudice and hope meshed together in this emotional period drama depicting the journey of self-discovery for Rosalie, who conceals her true identity until her wedding day. Inspired by the history of Clémentine Delait, a famous bearded lady who ran a café in 19th century France, Nadia Tereszkiewicz displays such a raw, anguished but heartfelt performance as the eponymous Rosalie, who was born with hair covering her face and body, that is bound not to leave a dry eye in the house. Plus, audiences will be spellbound by the sheer beauty of the cinematography in Rosalie which oozes grace as a contradiction to the intolerable cruelty exposed.

Set in 1870s France, Rosalie is a reflection of parochial attitudes during that era – Rosalie is married off, for a dowry, to a stranger that her father admits to barely knowing. Receiving a dowry is de rigueur during such period and as are the entrenched prejudicial positions within a society drawn on gender, race and class divisions. Rosalie shines a mirror on today’s society in demonstrating that little change has been made within these stereotypical notions of femininity.

Some of the main themes underpinning Rosalie are love and acceptance. At the outset, Rosalie expresses fear of being rejected, which has pervaded her life since childhood, and therefore acceptance is a basic need for her alongside love. The film quickly establishes Rosalie’s desires as she utters to Abel Deluc, within their initial moments alone, that she seeks unconditional love, which would provide that acceptance, and above all it is a sentiment that she believes could be granted to her by a child. Indeed, these tenets are pivotal within the film as the main drivers for Rosalie despite adversity – she still raises a toast in the name of love when she is subject to the ultimate setback in her life!

Rosalie’s hope and optimism is in stark contrast to that of her new husband Abel majestically played by Benoît Magimel. Whereas Rosalie demonstrates an innocence and childlike inner beauty he is a war scarred man whose spirit seems broken and he has physical impediments resulting in him wearing a back brace. In comparison to Rosalie’s gentle, graceful demeanour despite her visible, hairy features, when she makes the decision not to shave continuously, Abel expresses a brutish almost violent nature. As such, Abel seems to be the Beast to Rosalie’s Beauty but the film subverts these traditional fairytale concepts.

Many aspects within Rosalie prove disturbing and illustrate the darker side of human nature. As little is known during such periods about hormonal conditions such as hirsutism, Rosalie is, at first, considered as a spectacle and subsequently ‘othered’ and vilified. Rosalie had innocently wished to create a café that encouraged freedom of expression and a liberal environment where tolerance was a key ingredient amongst a community where physical labour and hunting are the main activities. The café therefore was a meeting place where two worlds collided but also became a focal point where Rosalie, unwittingly, became the star attraction in many ways. Unfortunately, such focus on Rosalie also meant that her differences became subject to the community’s vitriol when matters go wrong and their livelihood is impacted.

As such, Rosalie is not merely a love story about two people ostracised by society for being different as there are socio-political and religious nuances. The film does, however, highlight the beginnings of intimacy behind closed doors in difficult circumstances. Whilst emphasising the damaging effects of collective negative attitudes. Rosalie is an affecting film and Tereskiewicz’s expressive performance, adds to the emotional weight within the film and she perfectly complements Magimel’s reticence as Abel. Di Giusto’s choice of framing and the fragmentation of their bodies and close ups of sensitive touches between the couple, assist to recreate a terse but accepting atmosphere for audiences who will empathise with Rosalie’s continuous suffering despite her sunny demeanour.

Equally, the sweeping score within Rosalie emphasises the emotional core of the film. There are melodramatic chords at the outset during a hunt which highlight the animalistic urgency of the pack and create a sense of fear and foreboding. Still, the film operates with a naturalistic silence, within austere backgrounds, for the most part which permits the actors to showcase their emotional range and makes the film seem even more powerful until the beautiful emotional climax reminiscent of The Shape of Water which introduces an evocative score once more.

Rosalie is a poignant, beautiful film which challenges our notions of beauty and love. There are tremendous performances from both Tereszkiewicz and Magimel in this emotive tale and Di Giusto’s skilful direction of them adds to the charming essence of the film. Rosalie was perhaps too progressive for her time but the film will raise many questions about femininity and societal constructs and the obsession with hair removal. Films such as Rosalie leave that lingering message that inclusivity and acceptance are important aspects of being human and that continuous improvement is still required within modern day society in that battle for equality.

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