‘Rosita’: Palm Springs Review

Rosita Still - H 2015
Courtesy of Danish Film Institute

Rosita Still - H 2015

A sympathetic portrait of romantic conflict and reconciliation.

Frederikke Aspock’s second feature is a low-key domestic drama revolving around issues of immigration and arranged marriage.

While widespread reports of refugee crises consistently dominate headlines, a subtler immigration trend is taking place on a more personal level, as women from impoverished nations marry and resettle in wealthier countries, contributing to a gradual realignment of cultural norms and a reassessment of preconceptions about immigrants.

Frederikke Aspock’s insightful and sometimes humorous drama Rosita captures this small-scale demographic shift as it impacts a northern Danish fishing village and the middle-aged widower who contemplates an arranged marriage to a younger woman from the Philippines. Although it sometimes progresses a bit too predictably, the film's accessible topicality and atypical location could help spark interest among art house audiences looking for a contemporary Nordic twist on familiar themes.

Veteran Danish screenwriter Kim Fupz Aakeson (Someone You Love) barely skirts stereotype with his taciturn protagonist Ulrik (Jens Albinus), a long-term manager at a fish processing plant. The fiftyish father of two adult sons, he's missed the comfort and companionship of a woman since his wife passed away some years previous. Rather abruptly, he announces to Johannes (Mikkel Boe Folsgaard), his younger son who still lives at home, that they will soon be hosting a houseguest. Rosita (Mercedes Cabral), a Filipina in her mid-20s, arrives on a tourist visa and moves in on a trial basis so that Ulrik can evaluate her suitability as a spouse. The arrangement has been crafted by one of his acquaintances, an older Filipina who is quick to surreptitiously remind Rosita to make the most of her opportunity.

Aside from the utter unfamiliarity of her new surroundings, Rosita has another major obstacle to overcome — communication with Ulrik, who speaks no English. With minimal fluency in Danish, Rosita relies on Johannes to translate for her and his father. Although he has a girlfriend who’s a better catch than he probably deserves, Johannes becomes fascinated with Rosita, as their halting exchanges quickly progress to secret flirtation. Ulrik, meanwhile, is too shy and uncertain of his situation to show Rosita much affection, leaving her adrift as she contemplates the consequences of betraying her commitment to him, even in his own home.

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An admonition delivered by another of Rosita’s acquaintance (one of a half-dozen Philippine women married to local men in the area), warning her to think with her head rather than her heart, captures the essence of the young woman’s dilemma. If she fails to persuade Ulrik to marry her, she’ll be on the next plane back to Manila, but she’s equally afraid of sharing some crucial information she’s been concealing from him that could also be a dealbreaker. As Ulrik and Rosita haltingly seek a common understanding, both must modify their expectations to achieve a degree of personal and cultural accommodation.

Although the movie bears some similarities to Mads Matthiesen’s 2012 Danish film Teddy Bear, the story of a shy, single bodybuilder who meets a young widow in Thailand and considers bringing her back home as his bride, Aakeson centers much of the pic’s conflict on the innate father-son rivalry between Ulrik and Johannes, which is intensified by Rosita’s arrival.

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Aspock works effectively within the confines of Ulrik’s modest little home to heighten the appearance of competition between the two men by employing tight framing and slightly unsteady handheld shots that convey a sense of unpredictability. She balances this impression of implied threat with moments of gentle humor, particularly between Johannes and Rosita, who both crave something more from their modest lives.

Albinus imbues Ulrik with a quiet reserve that’s gradually eroded by Johannes’ escalating transgressions, challenging him to seize his opportunity for enduring happiness despite his son's interference. At the same time, Johannes’ resolve appears to falter as his personal objectives become more uncertain, a process that Folsgaard portrays with a mixture of anger and escalating confusion. In-demand Filipina actress Cabral nicely juxtaposes Rosita’s conflicting motivations for remaining in Denmark, progressing from helpless confusion to feisty determination.

Production company: Nordisk Film Production

Cast: Mikkel Boe Folsgaard, Mercedes Cabral, Jens Albinus, Julie Agnete Vang

Director: Frederikke Aspock

Screenwriter: Kim Fupz Aakeson

Producers: Thomas Heinesen, Leila Vestgaard

Executive producer: Henrik Zein

Director of photography: Adam Wallensten  

Production designers: Rie Lykke, Jacob Wirth Carlsen

Editors: Martin Schade, Mette Zeruneith

Music: Aaron Kenny

Venue: Palm Springs International Film Festival

Sales: TrustNordisk

Not rated, 95 minutes