(A Perdre La Raison)
Release Date: 14 November 2012
Director: Joachim Lafosse
Running Time: 111 Minutes
Starring: Niels Arestrup, Tahar Rahim, Émilie Dequenne, Stéphane Bissot
Screening Reviewed: London Film Festival Press Screening
Reviewed by Kyle Pedley
Our Children, the latest outing by Belgain writer-director Joachim Lafosse, is a curious and somewhat unusual cinema experience which in many ways takes the opposite approach of most mainstream dramas or cinema altogether in gradually streamlining and focusing itself and it’s narrative as it progresses. As opposed to the more conventional moviemaking norm of throwing in additional characters, complicating the narrative and widening the scope, Our Children gradually shifts dynamic, tone and focus to become almost a singular, claustrophobic character study.
It’s a brave move, and fairly understandable given the sombre and shocking direction the story will eventually take, but as the film weaves it’s way towards the inevitable tragedy we are warned of from the start, it’s difficult to shake the feeling that everything that has come before has not quite been taken to a satisfying conclusion, and for a film so focused around the dynamics and relationships between three central characters, it is unfortunate to see two thirds of it’s triad pretty much sacrificed for the final reel.
The film begins, after an unsettling flash-forward prologue, by introducing us to the heady flushes of youthful love between young Moroccan immigrant Mounir (Tahar Rahim of A Prophet fame) and Belgian school-teacher Murielle (Emilie Dequenne). The chemistry and bond between the two is at once obvious, naturalistic and winning. As we begin to see them blissfully begin their lives together - marriage, a slew of children - we are introduced to Andre Pinget, Mounir’s foster father and benefactor who made life away from Morocco possible for him and his siblings, though never at the expense of severing his ties there.
The relationship that develops between the three characters is undoubtedly one of the films highlights, and Niels Arestrup gives an arresting and brilliant performance as a benevolent benefactor who impresses his generosity, yet when necessary enforces an almost autocratic control over Mounir and his family, a control that only tightens and becomes more desperate as the film, and the central couples lives, progress. It’s a brilliantly written role that never loses its ambiguity and depth; each time Pinget comes close to appearing the typical controlling villainous type we are swiftly given cause to empathise with him and the reasoning behind and his need for being so overbearing and protective.
As the years pass, more children are born and the natural wane of married life begins to muddy the idyll, and the film gradually comes to focus almost entirely on Murielle’s descent into depression and eventual desperation. The structural monotony of the second reel, as we are privy to watching the arrival and growth of each child, the spark and magic gradually becoming dimmer with each new arrival, is almost the perfect audience manipulation for the gloom and dip that follows. A distant, over-busy Mounir, the overbearing presence and influence of Pingent and the natural demands of being a mother who is deemed unfit to work due to depression all culminate in an intriguingly glum final 40 minutes as we slowly see the character of Murielle fade away and edge ever closer to despair.
It is a brilliantly psychological and thought-provoking direction, leant extra gravitas and impact by being based on real-life events, and enormous credit must go to Dequenne who gives a devastatingly real central performance and sells each nuance and ebb of the character brilliantly. Much like the similarly individual-centric Rust and Bone, this is a film which rests exclusively on it’s characters and performances (any plot or subplots, such as the complications of the couple’s extended family and Mounir’s Moroccan roots, are thankfully underplayed) and indeed all three leads do utterly convincing work here.
With the film heading to its incredibly downbeat and shocking conclusion, it’s a saving grace that to find that we have become genuinely invested in the individuals on-screen. However, that leads to the problem as mentioned that Pinget and Mounir play only minor roles in the resolution of the film, leaving the characters disappointingly sidelined when, as mentioned, it is the complicated and layered bond and tensions between the three that lends it much of its initial interest and strength.
There’s no doubt that Our Children ends exactly how and when it should, but there is something of an emotional silence to the finale where shock and impact seems to take precedence over a more rounded and involved conclusion to what has come before. We see the reaction of Mounir and Pinget to the films conclusion way back in the opening, but by the time nearly 2 hours has passed it’s difficult to not feel a little cheated when the film ends so abruptly and with such singular focus on Murielle, even safe in the knowledge that the film story does keep Pinget in the picture and rather than opting for any atypical Hollywood expulsion of his character.
As a more realistic and earthy character study, and a knowing reflection on the aimless deterioration of ambition, dreams and married life, Our Children is a brilliant and sombre affair that deserves both credit and a mindful audience. As a rounded narrative and cinematic experience, it falls a little short, and seems to let the bravura and impact of it’s denoument take over from the intricate and complicated interplay that had come before. It knew it had a powerful ending and a powerful central performance guiding it there and unfortunately jetties a little too much as a result. After all, when such excellent, intriguing and involving dynamics have been established between three terrific characters and actors, it all feels a little empty by the time the horrifying conclusion kicks.
Then again, that may be precisely the point, leaving us with the sobering and desperate commentary that Murielle’s pitch perfect life became dire and hollow, just as any like it can do so as well...
(A)MUSINGS RATING - * * * (3 out of 5 Stars)
The 56th BFI London Film Festival runs in full from 10 - 21 October 2012 in partnership with American Express. Press Screenings for the festival began 24 September 2012. For more information on the festival please visit www.bfi.org.uk/lff