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DVD Review – Our Children

4 min read

The film that caused ripples of approval in the 2012 Cannes Film Festival, Our Children is the Belgian art house film written and directed by the renowned Joachim Lafosse. The film tells the story of an unconventional, multi-ethnic family whose ties to each other become painfully oppressive and overwhelming.

OurChildrenThe film opens with the heart wrenching scene of four small white coffins being loaded onto a plane, proposing questions to the audience such as whose little bodies reside within the wood and under what circumstances were they laid to rest there.

Our Children follows the coupled life of a young Belgian woman, Murielle (Emilie Dequenne) and her Moroccan lover Mounir (Tahar Rahim) as the two begin living together before getting married and having children. However there is an additional piece to the puzzle of Murielle and Mounir’s relationship – Mounir’s adoptive father, an extremely wealthy doctor, André (Niels Arestrup).

At first the old man seems somewhat against Mounir’s relationship with Murielle, before announcing that the latter could move in and that he would even pay for the couple’s honeymoon following their marriage. This offer, along with the way in which Murielle and Mounir accept – under the condition that André join them – is the beginning of an unconventional family life between the three of them.
Soon Murielle and Mounir’s young children one by one begin to join the household, and Murielle begins finding it hard to breathe. Following a minor accident when the couple’s oldest daughter suffers a fall down a flight of stairs, Murielle begins to doubt her position both as a mother and within the joint household.  With stirring feelings of insecurity and oppression instigated by her belief in her inability to pertain to image of perfect motherhood alongside the idea that she cannot do, say or be how she wishes within a house with two men who place their continuous expectations and demands upon her, Murielle’s health begins its slow decline.

The couple have more children and the confined space makes it hard on both Mounir and Murielle, the latter proposing that they should move away from André’s ever watching presence, suggesting Morocco so as to spend more time with Mounir’s biological family. However, when Mounir takes this idea up with André, the latter is far from appeased and insists that they all relocate to a bigger house within Belgian and make frequent visits to Morocco instead. Unable to break the bond between him and his adoptive father, whilst also fearing how the separation would impact his family’s lives financially Mounir, to Murielle’s intense displeasure agrees to André’s terms.

Murielle seeks solace in the family’s visits to Morocco, forming a close bond with Mounri’s mother and family despite language barriers, however back home in Belgian André has to prescribe her sick leave and refers her to a psychiatrist to discuss her continual depression and slow loss of reason.

Becoming ever more a nervously depressed wreak, Murielle is increasingly considered an embarrassment both by her husband, father-in-law and children. Loosing herself more and more, Murielle answers the question that was proposed at the film’s beginning in a way that the audience is resigned to accept.

The film’s deep and multi-layer takes a little time to get used to and decipher, however once the plot begins to take shape and pick up momentum the story becomes a desperate contemporary thriller of what it means to be a woman trapped by her own life and loved ones. With prevailing themes of opposition and oppression the air surrounding this feature is gloomy, albeit captivating as the audience strives to reach an understanding and justification of the character’s actions and interactions.

With authentic acting from the entire cast, in particular Emilie Dequenne, whose performance landed her the esteemed Un Certain Regard Best Actress Award at the Cannes Film Festival 2012, Joachim Lafosse’s narrative is truly bought to life.

It was the soundtrack that limited this film the most, with continual cuts of Hayden’s ‘Stabat Mater’ throughout that began to become an expected bore and instead of creating atmosphere succeeded only in distancing the audience from the on screen content. However, that Hayden’s piece was repeated so much and so often meant that the scene in which Murielle brokenly sings long to Julien Clerc’s ‘Femmes je vous aime’ was deeply profound and the lyrics intently relevant, thus creating a scene of deep empathy and power.

It’s not hard to see why Our Children was so strongly acclaimed on the international festival stage, and it certainly deserves to be widely accepted on the home screen too, as a strong recommendation to those of you whom enjoy the mysterious dark undertones of European cinema.