Our Children (À perdre la raison) review

Our Children charts the family life of teacher Murielle (Dequenne), her husband Mounir (Tahir), ever-present father figure Andre (Arestrup) and their steadily swelling brood of children. Beginning at the end and working slowly (ever so slowly) towards their inexorable fate, it tells the story of Murielle’s decline, under strain from the burden of four children, the mixed blessing of their live-in benefactor, neglect, rape, post-natal depression and violence.

Filmed in a voyeuristic style with a shaky camera and some out of focus obstacle always cutting across the foreground of the frame, it effectively produces the sensation that you’re on the outside looking in at their domestic troubles. Acted impeccably (earning Dequenne Un Certain Regard for best actress at Cannes) it achieves a remarkable realism. Among the angst and suffering, the cinematography and the performances, the big talking point, however, has to be the structure – the way it reflects and informs events, the way it divides moments of drama from family life. Form follows function in telling a tale of neglect, of constrained emotions, of unresolved issues, of unspoken feelings and of restraint, meaning that the film’s attention, presumably mirroring Mounir’s, hovers infrequently and momentarily over Murielle’s plight. The rest, with remarkable realism, is crushingly mundane.

The problem (if not simply that you spend a lot of time watching not much happening) is that if form is to follow function and the function the film serves is to tell the story of a woman with a largely boring life where moments of drama go unaddressed, then the film must be largely mundane with rare moments of drama that aren’t addressed again. A reasonable stylistic comparison might be Matteo Garrone’s Gomorrah, in which the short lives of would-be gangsters in an organisation characterised by the separation of disposable foot soldiers from the big picture are mirrored in relatively short, tenuously connected sequences that contribute little to an explicit linear narrative. It’s unglamorous and challenging but not uninteresting; it provides food for thought and events for dissection.

It’s one thing for a film to place no value or make no judgement on events; it’s another entirely to provide little event for judgement. In the former we are left to make our own judgements, in the latter, our own story. Our Children relies on the viewer imposing their own narrative, a vapid challenge where excessive analysis of a few minutes of drama is provoked only by the rest of the film being so listless and uneventful.

Our Children at IMDb

Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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