Told in flashbacks, the story of 13-year-old reform-school inmate Rosie (Aranka Coppens) is not a pretty one. She desperately loves her single mom Irene (Sara de Roo), despite the fact that she is more concerned with finding a new man in her life than being a proper mother. She even has Rosie pretend to be her younger sister so her dates won't be scared off. Left virtually alone for most of the time, Rosie creates a colorful imaginary world, fueled by the appearance in her life of Jimi (Joost Wijnant), a charming rascal who becomes everything to her. Together, they share a series of knockabout misadventures. However, real life intrudes with the entrance of Michel (Frank Vercruyssen), Irene's wastrel brother, who takes an inordinate interest in his young niece. Rosie chafes against his solicitude, with dire results.

Patrice Toye makes her directorial debut with Rosie, and one can fairly feel her straining for a distinctive edginess in every frame of her film. She presents a gritty, joyless picture of life in present-day Belgium, seen largely through the eyes of her adolescent heroine. The skies are always downcast, the characters live in depressing, dun-colored flats, there's not a sign of natural beauty or architectural history anywhere. Unfortunately, Rosie's tale is simply not that compelling to justify all this determined drabness.

Coppens is a strong little actress, with a fitting resemblance to the very young Jennifer Jason Leigh. The role itself is a very hardboiled Leigh sort of turn, but there's nothing all that distinctive about Rosie, apart from her absolute disaffectedness. With her penchant for radio pop music, heavy makeup and precocious flirtation, she's a Lolita with no real dramatic context or surprise. Jimi is just your basic-issue cute boy: young, dumb and horny. Michel has 'villain' written all over him; we never discover what has turned him into such a full-time creep (or, until the very predictable denouement, exactly why Irene puts up with his crap). Rosie's fantasy life, as depicted, seems more of an annoying distraction than a precious personal catharsis. The most interesting character is actually the deeply conflicted and messed-up Irene, played by the exotically beautiful de Roo. Had her personal account been developed more as a parallel to Rosie's, the film might have had a more pleasing structural balance and variation. Instead, we are treated to repetitively unsettling sequences of Rosie being reckless in a stolen car, shoplifting from a boutique, being surly to grownups, endlessly escaping to a deserted refinery that is her true home, and fatefully playing with matches. Yes, yes, she's in desperate need of love and affection. That's obvious, but the point is driven home a little too relentlessly.

--David Noh