Tori and Lokita opens with Lokita (Joely Mbundu), a 16-year-old migrant from Cameroon, as she answers a brooding, offscreen immigration bureaucrat’s questions with careful, measured answers. But the interview’s tone shifts when the interrogator challenges her story, and gradually, Lokita’s composure unravels. There is an overwhelming accusatory skepticism that emanates from the offscreen bureaucrat, personifying inhuman adversity faced by Lokita and migrants across Europe that clouds state-inflicted misery. The scene compels the audience to see Lokita, to sympathize with her desperation as she confronts the state.
Lokita lives at a children’s center in a Belgian city with Tori (Pablo Schils), an 11-year-old boy from Benin who Lokita calls her brother. But they are not siblings. Fearing Lokita’s deportation, the two tirelessly rehearse their plea to persuade immigration officers to grant Lokita her residency papers. It is painfully clear that Tori and Lokita live isolated from Belgian society, faced with the blunt cruelty of the world. Profiled by police and ignored by residents, they move through a world that rejects them. But they have each other, nurturing their anxieties with lullabies and selfless affection.
To make money, they work for an odious chef named Betim (Alban Ukaj), who hires the two minors to traffick illegal drugs. Faced with exile, Lokita falls indebted to Betim when he promises her false papers if she manages his marijuana greenhouse. Tori and Lokita confront separation—a division that exposes the reality of their imperiled story. One that is uncomforted by lullaby.
Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne specialize in social realism, unwaveringly committed to their characters and craft, and Tori and Lokita is no exception. The film forces the audience to witness violence, not only from villains like Betim but from the state. The Dardennes investigate bureaucracy, revealing its callous nature and implicating its involvement in perpetuating misery. 89 min.