Our Children

(A perdre raison)

Belgian

The young Belgian director Joachim Lafosse, who had previously made “Private Property” and “Private Lessons,” is a talent to watch.  While his work is exhibited in Europe, it’s little known in the U.S., but that may change after the screening of his new, intriguing film, “”Our Children,” in the main slate of the estimable New York Film Festival.

World-premiering at the 2012 Cannes Film Fest, in the secondary series of Certain Regard, “Our Children” centers on one woman as she descends into dangerous behavior that borders on madness and insanity.  The French title, “A perdre la raison,” which roughly translates into “Losing Reason” is more accurate in depicting the subject and tone of this dark yet fascinating portraiture.

This bleak domestic drama, inspired by factual events, which occurred in a suburb of Brussels circa 2007, features a strong performance from the gifted and attractive actress Emilie Dequenne (who you may recognize as the troubled femme in Andre Techine’s “The Girl on the Train”).

“Our Children,” which unfolds as a triangle of a young mother caught between two men (Tahar Rahim and Niels Arestrup) in a claustrophobic nightmare, is a gloomy psychological drama,  According to the press notes, Our Children is based on the case of   women named Genevieve Lhermitte, who stabbed her five children to death and then turned herself into the police.

The sharply observed scenario is co-written by Lafosse, Thomas Bidegain (who was also represented in Cannes Fest this year with Jacques Audiard’s well acted melodrama, “Rust & Bone,starring Marion Cotillard) and Matthieu Reynaert,

Though his oeuvre is small, it’s clear by now that Lafosse is interested in exploring intimate claustrophobic relationships, which tend to push their characters to the edge.

In the film, the protagonist is named Murielle, a teacher who falls for a Moroccan immigrant, Mounir (Rahim),and moves into his home, owned by his surrogate father, doctor Pinget (Arestrup), who’s married to Mounir’s sister so that she can get a visa.  Pinget and Mounir are engaged in a complex, complicated and unhealthy relationship; the surrogate son works for Pinget, with whom he might have had a sexual bond as well.  The couple’s economic conditions are so tough, needing to feed so many children, that they have to depend on support of the authoritarian father

Murielle’s choices are even more limited and restricted than those of her husband, though she does seek the help of a psychologist (Nathalie Bouthalie), and gradually she is driven into utter despair and depression, which leads to the ruthless murder of her kids,

Lafosse doesn’t pretend to fully understand Murielle’s motivation, and he also refrains from offering cheap psychological reasoning for her conduct,  But the film is rich both in text and subtext, and it’s evident that the director wishes to comment on broader issues, such as masculinity, self-esteem, Western colonialism, and various forms of manipulation and abuse,

It’s a credit to Lafosse that, despite (or perhaps because of) the ambiguity and lack of easy explanations, “Our Children” is dramatically compelling  throughout the tale and deeply disturbing in its eventual impact.

Credits

Director: Joachim Lafosse
Screenwriters: Joachim Lafosse, Thomas Bidegain, Matthieu Reynaert
Director of photography: Jean-Francois Hensgens
Production designer: Anne Falgueres
Costume designer: Magdalena Labuz
Editor: Sophie Vercruyss

Running time: 110 Minutes