Our Children (A Perdre La Raison) (R15)

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Review byMatthew Turner12/05/2013

Four out of Five stars
Running time: 105 mins

Impressively directed and superbly written, this is an emotionally devastating Belgian drama with a powerful central performance from Emilie Dequenne.

What's it all about?
Co-written and directed by Joachim Lafosse, Our Children (or À Perdre La Raison, the translation of which – Loss of Reason – seems much more appropriate to the story) is based on the horrific true story of Belgian mother Genevieve Lhermitte, who turned herself in to the police after murdering her five children in 2007. Emilie Dequenne stars as Belgian schoolteacher Murielle, who falls in love with Moroccan-born Mounir (Tahar Rahim) and marries him after a whirlwind romance, bearing him four children in quick succession.

At first, Murielle and Mounir are blissfully happy, but their domestic situation is complicated by having to live with Mounir's adoptive father (and boss) Andre (Niels Arestrup), who married Mounir's sister so she could get a visa and brought Mounir with him at the same time. While on the surface, Andre's generosity seems of a piece with his role as benefactor, the reality is that Murielle never feels like their lives are their own, as Andre's controlling grip gets tighter and tighter.

The Good
Emilie Dequenne delivers a harrowing performance as Murielle and does an excellent job of portraying her gradual descent into depression and madness. A Prophet co-stars Rahim and Arestrup are equally good as Mounir and Andre and the exact nature of their relationship is, cleverly, never fully explained (there's a hint at one point that they were involved sexually), since the story unfolds primarily from Murielle's point of view (In a brilliant early scene there's a look of sheer panic that washes over Mounir's face when his younger brother bitterly suggests he has only married Murielle for a visa, while at a family celebration).

Lafosse's direction is assured throughout, using a snapshot approach to the passing of time that is effectively unsettling; there are often several months or even years between scenes, so the audience constantly has to work to regain its bearings. In addition, aside from the utterly devastating and brilliantly staged finale (Lafosse thankfully spares us the gory details, but he gives us all we need to know), there are a number of stand-out sequences, such as Murielle breaking down in tears while singing along to Julien Clerc’s power-ballad ‘Femmes Je Vous Aime’ on her car stereo.

The Bad
The only real problem with the film is that it leaves too many questions unanswered; hinting at the true nature of Andre and Mounir's relationship is one thing, but towards the end of the film, Murielle is very clearly in desperate need of mental help and yet no-one seems to notice how serious her depression is. Similarly, LaFosse gives no explanation for the apparent loss of love in the central relationship, which is ultimately frustrating.

Worth seeing?
Our Children is a well made and superbly acted Belgian drama that is utterly heartbreaking to watch. Bring tissues – you'll need them.

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Content updated: 25/04/2019 10:51

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