4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Understated And Powerful,
This review is from: Our Children [DVD] (DVD)
Anyone who knows of the (real-life) tragic events that befell Belgian wife and teacher, Genevieve Lhermitte, will realise that this 2012 film by Belgian Joachim Lafosse, whose film is based on said events, was never destined to be an easy watch (indeed, anyone who doesn't know this 'story' can probably deduce it from Lafosse's practise here of showing us the 'aftermath' - not a recommended practise, in my book - at the start of his film). I recently watched Our Children twice in the space of three days (a glutton for punishment, I hear you say) and, whilst on first viewing I felt that perhaps it was a little too clinical (or even too realistic?) for its own good in its depiction of a woman's emotional disintegration (reinforcing the comparison with Michael Haneke that has been made for the film), watching a second time I found it increasingly mesmerising, (of course) harrowing and compelling (causing me to raise a four star rating to five).
Whilst it would have been 'easier' for Lafosse to have fictionalised his tale (and not suffer challenges to the veracity of its depiction), nevertheless, for me, the film can be appreciated on its own merits - in particular, the naturalistic performances of his cast, newly married couple Émily Dequenne's Murielle and Tahar Rahim's Mounir plus Mounir's 'adopted step-father', benefactor and doctor Niels Arestrup's André Pinget, and their creation of an almost dream-like, but at the same time, frighteningly realistic, atmosphere in which Murielle becomes trapped in her own domestic nightmare. Of course, in his three 'stars' Lafosse struck gold. Reuniting Rahim and Arestrup from their pairing in A Prophet was a masterstroke - here, again, the two impress greatly, Rahim as the 'lover' torn between wife/domesticity and friend/father-figure; Arestrup as the 'well-meaning', softly-spoken, but brooding 'controller', whose shackles are raised at any threat to his 'adopted family'. But, best of all is Dequenne (an actress who first came to the film-world's attention via her performance in the Dardennes' brothers' 1999 film Rosetta) as the initially 'star-struck' lover, thence the increasingly nervy, insecure and marginalised 'outsider'.
Lafosse's film also features a prominent thread of 'culture clash', between Mounir's Moroccan Muslim and the French Murielle - with André's 'marriage of convenience' to Mounir's sister Fatima and thence that between Mounir's brother Samir and Murielle's brassy sister Françoise (an impressive Stéphane Bissot), plus associated language difficulties. But, for me, whilst this adds another interesting dimension to Lafosse's film, essentially, Murielle's predicament is (simply) a human one, irrespective of culture (indeed, Mounir's mother Rachida is one of Murielle's closest 'allies') - actually, the focus is around Murielle's lack of any supportive confidantes.
Style-wise, the film's atmosphere of Murielle's 'claustrophobic confinement' and lack of privacy is brilliantly accentuated by Lafosse's use of furtive camera positions and 'over the shoulder' shots (courtesy of cinematographer Jean-Françios Hensgens). Similarly, Lafosse's choice of a haunting classical soundtrack, featuring music by Haydn and Scarlatti, further exacerbates the increasing sense of doomed fatalism. A key (and devastating) scene is that of a driving Murielle tearfully singing along to a Julien Clerc song.
Certainly far from a 'barrel of laughs', then (there are virtually no lighter moments here - negating an obvious comparison with Loach or even the Dardennes), but certainly the most powerful film I have seen about female 'disintegration' since Michael Winterbottom's Jude and Terence Davies' The House Of Mirth.