unlikely character to build a film around, she is based on Belgium’s Susan
Smith. Following the story of a woman
who killed her children in the press, director-co-writer Joachim Lafosse was
disturbed by the way she was inevitably demonized. In response, the filmmaker finds sympathy for
the desperate housewife in his fictionalized Our Children (trailer
official submission for best foreign language Oscar consideration, which
screens during the 50th New York Film Festival.
relationship with Dr. André Pinget is hard to define. His boss and surrogate father technically
really is his father, by marriage. Years
ago, Pinget married Mounir’s mother for immigration purposes, but she
subsequently moved back to Morocco.
Pinget kept Mounir, as a son/sidekick.
When Mounir marries the Belgian Murielle against his advice, he welcomes
her into the “family” and his home, but maintains his influence over Mounir.
a while everything is great, especially with the doctor paying all the
bills. However, the combination of
several young children in short succession and Mounir’s traditional notions of
gender roles around the house (not exactly discouraged by Pinget) take a
frightful toll on the woman. Reduced to
a pill-popping wreck, suddenly everything is her fault.
succeeds in humanizing Murielle despite tip-toeing around the elephant in the
room, Mounir’s Muslim perspective on home and hearth. Strangely, she rather idealizes life in
Morocco, prompting rebukes from both her husband and Pinget. That would be no life for your daughters they
warn her. In effect, Lafosse presents
her completely stressed-out without the benefit of adequate emotional support,
rather than suggest she were the victim of a clash of cultures in her own family.
gives Émilie Dequenne a steeper hill to climb, yet she still portrays Murielle’s
slide into madness with remarkable power. The degree to which she physically
manifests her mental disintegration is downright harrowing. Even though the audience knows full well what
unspeakable acts she will commit (eventually handled quite chillingly by
Lafosse), one cannot help feel some measure of sympathy for her.
film would not click together nearly so well without Niels Arestrup’s work as
Pinget either. Warm and jowly on the outside,
he clearly projects something rather more unsettling underneath. Many have likening his paternalism to
colonialism and perhaps there is a kernel of truth to that, but he is also very
much the controlling social worker or manipulative mother, who is always quick
to bemoan “this is how you repay me after everything I’ve done for you” at the
first sign of independent decision-making.
Yet, it is often hard to fathom the mindset of Tahar Rahim’s Mounir
during all this, beyond his conspicuous self-centeredness.
Children is obviously a tough
film to watch, but Lafosse keeps viewers locked in, masterfully using classical
music and pop tunes to heighten the emotional angst. While declining to address certain issues
head-on, it is quite a showcase for Dequenne and Arestrup’s chops. Recommended for those who appreciate
challenging drama, Our Children screens
this Friday (10/12) and Saturday (10/13) as a main slate selection of the 2012
Labels: 85th Academy Awards Foreign Language Submissions, Belgian Cinema, Niels Arestrup, NYFF '12