Inspired by the social realism of Ken Loach and Mike Leigh, Rosie works within the boundaries of the characters' working-class environment. Their lack of money and resources is mirrored by the sparseness of Toye's filmmaking approach. Both characters and filmmaker need to work within their budgetary limitations, and when the money runs out, imagination must take its place. Rosie explores the need, and also the danger, of living this kind of hand-to-mouth life.
The small, cramped country of Belgium seems to be having a bit of luck when it comes to breakout filmmakers. There was Man Bites Dog back in '92, the story of documentary filmmakers who follow a serial killer and end up helping him with his crimes. More recently, the brothers Dardenne (La Promesse, the upcoming Rosetta) have emerged, and now Toye.
"We [Belgians] all escape by making up stories," Toye told me when she came to town during the Seattle International Film Festival, "by using our fantasies and mingling it with documentary reality. It's very weird, because I also have the documentary feeling, and the brothers Dardenne also have the documentary stuff in their film. I think it's like--I don't know--it's a wave or something. It's very good." What's less than good is the lack of support the Belgian government has for their filmmakers. Apparently, it's difficult to see a Belgian film in Belgian theaters; like everywhere else, the screens are jammed with Hollywood product.
So it's not surprising that before making Rosie, her first feature film, Toye worked making documentaries for television. What is surprising is that she was able to pick and choose her subjects. Toye says, "I did documentaries on young girls at 13 years old, what they were talking about in their bedrooms, what they were whispering about, what they were dreaming of. I did documentaries about youngsters who are in youth prisons. That was also for me a very intensive thing. You get to learn about young people that are, for example, saying that their mother is dead, and she isn't. It's more easy for them to lie. It's terrible for them to say their mother is alive but doesn't come to visit because she's ashamed of them. All those things very much influenced me in preparing my script for Rosie."
Perhaps the best thing she picked up from making documentary films is a sense of people, of their contradictions and internal motivations. "In Rosie," she says, "you have these people: None of the people are really good, none of them are really bad. They're all complex, like real life, and they have no real answers for anything. There are many truths in the story, there are many lies in the story. Everybody's a mixture of good and bad."
Toye's willingness to use complex characters, to mix lies with truths, shows a respect for the audience most first-time filmmakers lack. "I think people aren't lazy," she says. "If they go and watch a film, let them use their own imagination. Don't reveal everything. Sometimes leave something out, like a little bit between the clouds, and let people have their own story. I think it's a pity that nowadays, especially with Hollywood films, you see three minutes of a film and you already know how it's going to finish. That can be fine. The only thing is, I don't want to make films like that. I want people to think and be a bit more creative."