Friday, 26 October 2012

LFF: Family Matters...(pt2)

A grim tale of familial and psychological breakdown comes under the spotlight of part 2 of Family Matters...

Like storm clouds on the horizon, a sense of foreboding hangs heavy over Joachim Lafosse's 
family centred drama Our Children. This fatalistic air is instilled via a prologue sequence during which a hospitalized woman tells a nurse that 'they must be buried in Morocco'. Flicking back in time we see the aforementioned patient, Murielle (Emilie Dequenne), in the warm glow of a blossoming love affair with Tahar Rahim's Mounir. The adopted Algerian son of Belgian doctor Andre (played by Niels Arestrup, Rahim's co-star from Jacques Audiard's A Prophet), Mounir romances Murielle all the way down the aisle, into the house he shares with Andre and into a marriage that will eventually lead to the horrific events hinted at in the opening scene.

A downbeat vision of a seemingly happy marriage blessed with bright, healthy children slowly unravelling under the weight of familial, economic and cultural pressures, Our Children takes in post-colonial guilt, gender expectations, parental responsibility/neglect and emotional/physical abuse as Murielle's deteriorating mental health becomes the film's central focal point. While Dequenne's portrayal of Murielle is excellent, with Rahim and Arestrup providing A grade support, Our Children suffers from a lack of balance that ultimately takes the emotional sting out of the film's bleak climax. Where the incremental changes to Murielle's emotional and mental states are handled with detailed care, Mounir and Andre's increasingly agitated, cold and outright aggressive attitude towards her aren't given the same focus. Though told over a number of years, the change in Mounir, from affable and caring to distant and hard, comes about too suddenly. Similarly, Andre's shift from proud father-in-law and grandfather to oppressive tyrant is more of a lurch than a gradual drift, throwing the overall narrative out of whack. 

By focusing on one side of a failing marriage Lafosse fatally undermines what should have been a gut-wrenching dénouement, stripping it of the impact strived for. By rendering two thirds of the adult members of this family in superficial tones, thus making them the 'bad guys' to use a crude phrase, no emotional investment is forthcoming at precisely the time it is most required. This leaves Our Children a hollow exercise in miserablism when it could have been one in fostering deep empathy leading to crushing sadness.