Wednesday, 12 December 2018

Belgian antidote to fluff and frolics

THIS is a film about a bully. Not your average, common or garden playground or workplace bully — an unpleasant species which most of us will have encountered at some point in our lives — but an über nasty piece of work

Review by Lesley Potter

Film: Our Children Certificate: (15) Director: Joachim Lafosse Starring: Emilie Dequenne, Tahar Rahim, Niels Arestrup

THIS is a film about a bully. Not your average, common or garden playground or workplace bully — an unpleasant species which most of us will have encountered at some point in our lives — but an über nasty piece of work. A man so clever that no one close to him realises how controlling and cold-hearted he is until it’s too late. If you are the type of cinema-goer who wants fluff and fun and fantasy, forget this film and don’t bother with this review. If, on the other hand, you admire films that make you think, and provide an insight into the strange darkness that pervades some people’s lives, then read on.

Murielle is a young, pretty, Belgian woman with a bright future ahead of her when she meets Moroccan immigrant Mounir. They fall in love and get married, and everything seems simple and straightforward — except that Mounir can’t find a decent job. He ends up accepting a position as assistant to Dr Pinget, and the young couple move in to the doctor’s home.

The problem is that Dr Pinget turns out to be Mounir’s adoptive father, a benefactor who brought him over to the West to provide a better life for his young protégé.

It’s an unorthodox situation. On the surface the doctor is a good man. His munificence knows no bounds. He showers the young couple with expensive gifts, and provides for their every domestic need as Murielle pumps out baby after baby. He is even brilliant with the children, a paragon of kindness and patience, his coollness contrasting starkly with Murielle’s increasing fragility of mind.

Emilie Dequenne, who plays Murielle, won the best actress award in the Un Certain Regard category at Cannes for her portrayal of a woman who is gradually losing her mind in the face of relentless manipulation by the two men she lives with. Her performance is breath-taking in its subtlety.

This is a film where, when the credits roll, you have a come-back-to-reality moment and realise you have been watching a movie. The events are based on a real-life situation and are horribly real, and horribly fascinating.

The film raises all kinds of issues — about racial differences, the inter-dependence of rich and poor, and the politics of sex. You are never quite sure what the doctor’s motivation is in seeking to control Mounir, his wife and his extended Moroccan family. Is he gay? A closet gay? Does he truly believe he is doing a service to this family? That question is never answered because in truth no one can ever really know the answer — we can only speculate.

It’s been said that this is a film about post-natal depression, but this is just another label men use to convince women they are mad when they won’t do as they’re told. In fact, as its original French title suggests, it’s about a vulnerable woman who loses all reason at the hands of an insidious bully. It’s brilliant.

Our Children plays again at the Regal on Tuesday, June 11.

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