A movie about a mother scorned is very rare. Our Children is a rare chance to make such a big-screen movie on that subject. The question is does it succeed at making such a movie watchable?
SPOILER WARNING: Many incidents including the ending will be mentioned in this review. So if you want it a complete surprise, please do not read any further.
The film is actually one that begins with the end of the story at the beginning. We see a woman in a hospital bed saying to have her children buried in Morocco. After we see four red coffins being brought onto a plane. Hey, don’t say I didn’t give you a spoiler warning!
We first see a young Murielle in love with a Moroccan medical student named Mounir. He wants to marry but feels he have to have the blessing not of his father but of Dr. Pinget: a Belgian doctor who has helped him out financially and morally to study medicine. The marriage is successful even receiving the blessing of Mounir’s mother. However there’s one catch. Dr. Pinget is to live in the same house. Murielle reluctantly goes along with it. Meanwhile Mounir has to deal with the feeling of animosity from his brother.
Murielle continues on with her job as a teacher and Mounir starts practicing medicine. They have two daughters. They go through the usual ups and downs of having a family. Dr. Pinget is not that much of an interference although he is strict with the couple that he is the only doctor they see. However it’s obvious about Pinget’s control when Murielle is pregnant with her third child. Mounir thinks of moving to Morocco as it would be less stressful with the couple. Pinget is infuriated and takes it as an insult.
The couple do spend time in Morocco and it helps with Murielle as it alleviates her stress. Mounir’s mother even makes her feel like one of the family. Murielle’s sister even falls in love with Mounir’s brother and they marry.
The stress returns to Murielle as she returns back to Belgium. Pinget is back into her life. The stress of managing three children is catching up to her and a fourth child is expected on the way. The stress has gotten to the point she even takes it out on a student who misbehaves in class. On top of that her husband is always under Pinget’s wing and controlling in his own way. She sees a psychiatrist, Docteur De Clerk, who’s very helpful with her psychological condition even after the birth of her fourth child. However Pinget finds out and is very angry towards her, even threatening. It’s then that Murielle finally decides to commit a rash act to ‘end her troubles’ once and for all.
At first when I saw this, I wondered why on earth would someone try to make a big-screen movie about a mother killing her children. It isn’t until later on I read that this film is based on a story that actually happened in Belgium where a young mother couldn’t take it anymore and she killed all five of her children. This movie attempts to parallel that very story. After reading up more on the story of the event, I could see a lot of parallels: the relationship, the doctor that was controlling and how the children were killed one by one.
I think that’s it about this movie. It echoes a common story we hear many times before: a mother murdering her children. North Americans are familiar with the stories of Susan Smith, Tarajee Maynor and Andrea Yates. A story like this is not that common in Europe but it does happen. The thing about this film is that it is done primarily from the mother’s point of view. I think that was the attempt of the filmmakers: to make such a film that people could relate to. I don’t think people seeing this would want to kill their children but I think people could relate to the struggles of young motherhood and someone interloping into their life and having control over what they do. There have been many murder movies where the murderer is shown as a person that possesses dark personality traits that are inside all of us. I think that may be why this story was done; to show the killer that personality traits and weaknesses we too possess.
Also I have to commend the filmmakers for not crossing the line and making it unwatchable. No one wants to see children murdered on a big screen, especially in a story close to the truth. It made a smart move by making it similar as she called the children one by one but kept the killing part hidden off-screen and completely silent. Even in the aftermath, all we see is a house with her phone call to the police. I remember taking an acting course where a teacher said people like simulation as opposed to the real thing. Good to see them holding off there.
The movie does answer some questions but it also opens for other questions too, especially about the murders that story is based upon. Why did she kill her children? I don’t condone murder of any kind but why didn’t she kill the doctor instead? He was the controlling one. I guess I’ll never know and there’s only one person in the world that can answer those questions. Also the position of Dr. Pinget in the relationship. Why was he that controlling? Was it because of Belgian law? Was it because of his belief that since he was a mentor to Mounir, Mornir’s whole family should do everything he says? Was it Mounir’s own feelings of loyalty for all the mentoring he gave him? We shouldn’t forget Dr. Pinget was as controlling to Mounir as he was to Murielle. That question remains unanswered too.
Emilie Duquenne did an excellent job in her acting as Murielle from the young girl in love to the mother breaking down. That scene where she’s behind the car singing a song and breaking into tears is a very powerful scene and was excellently acted. North American audiences are not familiar with Duquenne but European filmgoers know her as the young teen lead in the Cannes Palme d’Or winning Rosetta from 1999. Tahar Rahim was also very good in his role as Mounir, the one caught in the middle. Niels Arestup was also excellent in his supporting role as the controlling Dr. Pinget. Interesting is that Tahar and Niels have worked with director Joachim Lafosse before in the film Un Prophete. The three are back together with something different. Lafosse does a good job in making a normally-unwatchable story watchable not only with his direction but also co-writing the script with Matthieu Raynart and Thomas Bidegain who also wrote Rust And Bone and co-wrote Un Prophete. The directing and writing did a good job in sending the message to the audience through what was unsaid and silent more than most films can send through dialogue.
Our Children is Belgium’s official entry in the Best Foreign Language Film category for the upcoming Academy awards: one of twelve films at the VIFF that are their respective country’s official entry in that category. The film was nominated for the ‘Un Certain Regard’ award at this year’s Cannes Film Festival and Dequenne’s performance won the Best Actress award in the ‘Un Certain Regard’ category.
I don’t know if Our Children is really all that watchable of a movie about a mother scorned but it does make efforts to be watchable without losing the story and relatable as far as human emotions go.