Friday, January 10, 2014

Let's Review Something: Our Children

Utter frustration is a feeling that I hate to feel.  It is also a feeling that can, at time, endear me to a film or a particular performance because I find myself longing to correct what I cannot and seeking any way (racking my brain mostly) that they can fix their plight and find that happy ending, even when it is obvious that all is lost and there is no light at the end of this very dark and dense tunnel.  I love tension and dramatics and that emotional connection to a film that is caused, and carried, by suffering and so I guess I’m a glutton for punishment because I like it when a film can reduce me to tears, and I don’t mean happy tears (although those are welcome as well).

There were many moments during ‘Our Children’ when I found myself clenching my fists in anger as a solitary tear slid down my cheek.

This movie is devastating.

Based on a true story, although I’m not entirely sure how ‘loose’ this adaptation is, ‘Our Children’ tells a very interesting tale of love, marriage and a third wheel.  The film tells the story of Murielle, a young and beautiful woman who falls for Mounir, a Moroccan man living in France.  Upon falling in love, and marrying Mounir, Murielle becomes aware of his families plight.  Being of Moroccan decent, they are in the country illegally and have been seeking paper-marriages to avoid deportation back to Morocco.  Mounir’s own sister is married to a man, Dr. Pinget, who is practically Mounir’s adopted father.  Murielle is assured that her marriage is not the same thing, and that Mounir is really in love with her, but as their marriage starts to form roots it becomes more and more evident that this was a mistake.  They move in with Dr. Pinget, who manages their finances and provides well enough for them, but as they begin to produce children things get stuffy in their home, and Murielle begins to desire a separation between themselves and the looming presence (and judgmental eye) of Dr. Pinget.

But he won’t have that.

The character of Dr. Pinget is a very interesting one, and one that truly stood out for me.  The backstory created with mere glances from Niels Arestrup (marvelous performance) is uncanny.  While the film makes subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) hints towards his relationship with Mounir and his vicarious ‘voyeurism’, it is left up to the audience to conclude for themselves who this man is and WHY he is doing what he is doing.  Thankfully, Arestrup dominates this role, understanding how to do so much with such an ambiguous presence.

But the film easily belongs to Emilie Dequenne, who is astonishing as the conflicted and eternally frustrated Murielle.  Her spark of life slowly diminishes as the film progresses, and she brilliantly conveys the overwhelming loss of freedom and control that Murielle undergoes.  Your heart breaks for her, and while the film’s climax is utterly devastating and something that I would normally loathe (seriously, nothing else in the world infuriates me more than the harming of a child), there is a sense of understanding that is only brought forth because of Dequenne’s miraculous portrayal.  The understanding that she has of her children’s futures thanks to the prison that has been built around them paints a very haunting portrait of a woman who did the only thing she knew how.

Her final phone call just kills me.

The film’s use of music was something that I particularly loved, and those sweeping segments of music and movement (the kissing, the love making) helped to build emotional connections and color in the relationships here, helping us to fall deeper into the family plight.

Overall, I really liked this one.  I guess that is the wrong choice of words.  I didn’t like this film at all, but I admire and respect what it did.  The film is a very hard one to watch, not because it is poorly done (it’s VERY effectively constructed) but because the story is so frustrating and heartbreaking.  That final scene is one I never hope to see again, and it wasn’t like anything was actually ‘shone’ (but that is also what made it all the more effective).  An astonishing look at desperation and the toll it can take on those incapable of escaping.

I give this an A-.  It's got not Oscar chances (I think it was submitted last year for Foreign Film and passed over) but Dequenne really should be up for Lead Actress.  She gives the second best performance I've seen this year (next to Clement) and is just remarkable here, with ZERO bouts of dramatic 'actressing'.  She chews the scenery without chewing anything, if that makes sense.  It's sad that she's going to be completely ignored, but at least she won some international awards last year. 


  1. A for me. Dequenne is phenomenal (she or Clement would be my runner-up to Exarchopoulos), and that final phone call kills me too. Such a devastating film, indeed. So glad I checked your AW ballot, as I'd completely forgotten about this film, and wouldn't have watched it.

    1. She really was exquisite! This year is SO STRONG, especially in this category. Knocking out actresses from my ballot is killing me.