Life on the fringes of society has always been a source of fascination in cinema. In recent years there have been a wave of films from The Florida Project to Scarborough that explore the contours of those margins through the eyes of a child. ROSIE, the feature-film debut of Métis writer-director-actor Gail Maurice (who stars in the powerful Bones of Crows, which is also playing the festival), is the latest film to join this canon.
Maurice’s film does not wade in the cold waters of trauma like many of its counterparts, instead it chooses to swim in a warmer pool. ROSIE is not so much concerned with those that caused the emotional wounds the characters are nursing, but rather the healing that comes from one’s chosen family. For Rosie (Keris Hope Hill), choice is something she is not afforded when her mother unexpectedly passes away.
As an orphaned indigenous child in 1984 Montreal, Rosie’s chances of being placed in a loving home are slim at best. Her only hope of avoiding the brutal child services system is if her estranged aunt Frédérique aka Fred (Mélanie Bray) agrees to take care of her. Unfortunately, Fred’s life is not ready for the familial bomb that is about to be dropped on her. A struggling artist who is three months behind on her rent, she uses the fire escape to avoid her persistent landlord, Fred can barely keep herself afloat. The only stable thing in her life seems to be Flo (Constant Bernard) and Mo (Alex Trahan), two transgendered women who she frequently gets drunk with.
Knowing what it was like to be ripped away from her mother at a young age and placed in a government system, Fred reluctantly agrees to take in her precocious niece. Adapting to their new arrangement is no easy task though. Fred frequently leaves the girl with individuals, take local busker Janine (Arlen Aguayo Stewart) for example, who she barely knows for hours at a time while she is at work or running errands. Not only is it irresponsible, but it also neglects the fact that Rosie is dealing with her own abandonment issues.
As the two gingerly take steps towards common ground, Maurice’s film builds a sense of community by highlighting how Rosie’s presence impacts those she interacts with. Everyone from Flo and Mo to a homeless Cree man, Jigger (Brandon Oakes), are taken with the young girl’s innocence and kindness. While the young protagonist’s sweetness is infectious, the sugary nature of certain aspects could give one a cavity.
ROSIE frequently walks a fine line between heartwarming and contrived. While Maurice’s film never falls into the later, one is always aware of all the plot beats that are to come. Whether the film is touching on Flo’s issues with their estranged father, Mo’s lack of confidence, or any of the other arcs the outcomes are rarely in doubt.
Despite the predictability of the script, Maurice does season the film with several intriguing ingredients. The recurring theme of using letters to link characters with those who have passed, and find strength in the process, is surprisingly effective in the context of the film. ROSIE also has its fair share of pointed commentary about the hypocrisy of Canada’s child welfare system, including the infamous Sixties Scoop, which led to scores of indigenous children being ripped from their families and placed in foster homes, and the lack of identity and culture displacement causes.
While the film has several important things to say, its overly sweet packaging takes away some of the overall impact of its commentary. Despite not delivering the knockout punch one hopes for, there is still enough here to maintain one’s interest in the both the film and whatever Maurice creates next. ROSIE reminds us that one can find community in the direst of situations, sometimes you just need to choose who that family will be.
ROSIE screens as a part of TIFF 2022. Head here for more from the festival.