Based on true events, celebrated director Joachim Lafosse's intense, multi-layered dissection of an unorthodox family unit created an unprecedented buzz at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival, and won Emilie Dequenne the prestigious Best Actress Award. OUR CHILDREN was critically heralded as one of the top art-house world cinema films of 2012 and Belgiumâs official entry for the 2013 Academy Awards. Young and full of life, Murielle (Emilie Dequenne, Rosetta) has a promising future ahead of her when she meets and falls head over heels for Mounir (Tahar Rahim, A Prophet). A wedding soon follows, and the happy couple quickly set about preparing to make a family. However, with family come ties, and none come as tight as that between Mounir and his adoptive father (Niels Arestrup, A Prophet, Sarah's Key) As Murielle continues to bring new life into the family, frictions between Mounir and Doctor Pinget reach boiling point. Helpless to extract her husband and children from the wealthy nest that Doctor Pinget has provided for them, Murielle is drawn into an unhealthy family dynamic. There is only one way out of this nightmare, and for Murielle all sense of reasoning begins to abandon her.
Based on true events, this French film tells a very dark tale indeed. It is about Andre (Niels Arestrup `War Horse' and `A Prophet') who plays a doctor who seems to have a soft spot for Algerians who want to escape to France to have a better future. He has married one for her convenience and then he sponsors her brother Mounir (Tahar Rahim `Free Men' and `also `A Prophet'). They seem to have a very close bond indeed so when Mounir announces he wants to marry a French woman, there is a moment of awkward friction.
This woman is school teacher Murielle played by the achingly beautiful Emilie Dequenne (`The Pack' and `Brotherhood of the wolf'). They waste absolutely no time in starting a family and Andre insists that they live with him. He sees himself as part of the larger family and what at first seems to be a loving and helpful man soon starts to be revealed as a manipulating and very controlling person indeed. As his influence grows so does the gap between the erstwhile love birds and it is only a matter of time before things will come to a head.
Director Joachim Lafosse has managed to make a harrowing true story be very watchable and engrossing with his portrayal of the inter relationships that make people act in a way they would never have meant to. All of the performances are excellent with Emilie Dequenne putting in an exceptional performance of a woman slowly coming unravelled; she seems to age as the film progresses. Issues around illegal immigration are touched upon but the morality is left for the viewer to decide. This was a co-production of companies in France, Belgium, Luxembourg and Switzerland and is a case where too many cooks can make a rather excellent meal of a film altogether. This is no feel good film either, but with the subject matter it was never going to be. In French and Arabic with very good sub titles and a run time of 111 minutes all of which are put to excellent use - this is a film for lovers of European cinema and fans of Niels Arestrup who is also excellent in the slow burning role of a controlling dictator - highly recommended.
Having watched Our Children twice, I have to say I don't really like it. The subject is very bleak: a mother is so unhappy she ends up killing her four children, as we discover in the FIRST SCENE of the film. It is based on a news story in the Belgian papers that shocked the nation, and it is not giving anything away to reveal this as the first scene is set after the catastrophe. The problem with such an extreme case is that is doesn't feel representative of anything, but rather is an aberration for the viewer to try to explain. Generally it is my impression that these acts are a way of getting back at a partner, as it is hard to imagine a parent doing this, however desperate, except for that reason; otherwise they would have to be insane. In Joachim Lafosse's film, the husband is somewhat at fault, but does not act in such a way as to fuel such hatred. In spite of the discretion with which the final scenes are handled, it still feels misconceived and doesn't ring true. In French it is called À perdre la raison - To lose one's reason - but insanity is never really the issue, just pressure and misery.
The film deals with a number of issues - sham marriages to get a Belgian passport, genuine marriage between cultures, and the problem of having a third person living with the young couple without any means of ending this. And also of having a number of children in these circumstances. It could be read as a feminist film, in that the husband, Mounir, and his godfather, André, are neither of them particularly sympathetic, and show considerable cruelty towards Murielle, while she is completely trapped. Mounir is rather weak and macho, and André is appallingly controlling. I simply couldn't understand why he would be living with this couple on a permanent basis just because he had helped the young man, unless he was secretly in love with him, but this doesn't seem to be the case. Émilie Dequenne gives a raw, brave performance in a role that is at times a bit like A Woman Under The Influence, but with the crucial difference that Mabel in that film would never harm her children, and you feel that 100%. The director would not be putting something in the film that cannot but be sensationalist. At the opposite pole, it is no doubt influenced by Michael Haneke in its extremity and coldness of vision, which is all too fashionable in contemporary art cinema - a baleful trend, I think, but its success at Cannes shows this is out of synch with contemporary thinking.