Nick's Review of Our Children
It's an all too common trope for a movie to begin with its end before flashing back and building from the story's initial outset of events. But in director Joachim Lafosse's stunning domestic drama "Our Children" it's to remind us of the irreversible. In 2007, a Belgian woman named Genevieve Lhermitte (dubbed Murielle here and played with the utmost conviction by Émilie Dequenne) slit each of her five children's throats with a knife stolen from a grocery store while her husband was visiting family in Morocco. (She was subsequently charged with first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison.)
"Our Children" opens with Murielle in a hospital ward weeping burial plans. What happens next describes the prior buoyant relationship between her and Mounir ("A Prophet" and "The Past's" Tahar Rahim) and his surrogate father André (Niels Arestrup, also of "A Prophet"), a physician who lives with and financially provides for the quickly married couple. Though Lafosse isn't so much interested in the HOW of the events as he is the WHY, and even then the reasons are more ruminative than explanatory or demystifying, and despite that Lafosse -- who wrote the loosely-based script with Thomas Bidegain and Matthieu Reynaert -- largely sticks to the facts of the matter, though issuing Murielle and Mounir four kids instead of five.
I wouldn't have it any other way. So much as I am someone who can easily stomach anything in the gore range of "Antichrist" and "Salo" to the relatively obscure gross-out masterpiece "Melancholie der Engel", the "Blue Valentine"/"-Is the Warmest Color"-type emotional devastation of "Our Children" -- and this just might have been kicking in the caffeine I'd ingested both beforehand and throughout my specific viewing -- I found to be particularly draining. For that I want to champion especially Dequenne as the grieving first bride and then mother. It takes a certain dens- and virtuosity to play seduced and abandoned with as much fragile sympathy as she does. (One scene in particular that has Murielle breaking into tears during a love song she hears driving on the radio, guided in one motionless take, though the film as a whole missed the Oscar shortlist, should have nonetheless been submitted as the pièce de résistance of a separate highlight reel.)
Given the present themes of patriarchy and family life I can only imagine how Danish director Susanne Bier would have handled similar material, or, given "Our Children's" tricky grisly subject matter, the Parisian auteur Jacques Audiard of "Prophet" and "Rust & Bone" fame. But Lafosse chose to turn this into a movie, and it's the feature that should unofficially announce him as a filmmaker to be put on the map. This is a masterful rendition of real-life happenstance, told visually with the always peeking eye of a liable onlooker. We along with the film wonder, from the male-dominated perspective of our cultural delusion, if the postpartum depression of Genevieve Lhermitte could have been helped, and if five lives could have been saved. (83/100)