Receiving its Chicago run at the Gene Siskel
Film Center this Friday is Joachim Lafosse’s Our Children. The road has been a long one for Lafosse’s somber and
calculated domestic puzzle picture, beginning with a debut at last year’s
Cannes Film Festival only to see it struggle to obtain distribution. Now
released in Chicago, up against the forthcoming commercial and critical success
that will be Alfonso Cuarón Gravity,
Our Children will likely conclude its
weeklong run without much fuss. A shame, really, given that it’s one of the
year’s most complex and emotionally rigorous films, capped off by what may just
be the best female performance of the year.
Tracking the trajectory of blossoming romance to domestic drudgery, Our Children is anchored by its two lead performances. Following an oblique yet foreboding prologue, the audience witnesses Murielle (Emilie Dequenne) and Mounir (Tahar Rahim) together in a lover’s embrace as they spew the sort of smitten pleasantries that only sound good coming out the mouths of newfound lovers. And it helps that it’s in French too. Lafosse confidently structures the film with numerous time lapses while still upholding to a linear timeline (minus the opening segment). It’s a straightforward but effective technique that highlights the couple’s relationship from marriage to children.
With its drab production design and increasingly hostile and contracting visual space, Our Children never quite feels at ease with itself. From slight upticks in emotional pitch to the increasing presence of Mounir’s father Andre (Niels Arestrup), the anxious feeling mounts to an incredibly disturbing final sequence that bares a strong resemblance to some of the bleak works of Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Aki Kaurismäki, and Roman Polanski. And while Our Children would’ve been a top contender for “feel-bad film of the year”, it’s grounded by Dequenne’s emotionally poignant performance. Much like Mia Farrow in Rosemary’s Baby, Dequenne’s command of the material provides insight on the increasingly complex and dark trajectory of her character. Every decision on her part is an informed one, providing audiences with a character of palpable evolution and growth.
It’s been fourteen years since Émilie Dequenne’s debut in Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne’s Rosetta. An incredible performance in an equally incredible picture, Dequenne’s work in Our Children is of a different breed. It’s marked by greater dramatic nuance, an intervening narrative focus, and simply different character traits; the once untrusting lead in Rosetta is more welcoming and even delusional of her social positioning. They are different roles but they remain the work of a brave actress willing to test and subvert audience expectations, never for a second giving in to expectation. Our Children isn’t like anything you would expect either, essentially because of Dequenne.