À perdre la raison | Our Children
DIRECTOR: Joachim Lafosse | WRITERS: Thomas Bidegain, Joachim Lafosse , Matthieu Reynaert | CAST: Émilie Dequenne, Tahar Rahim, Niels Arestrup, Stéphane Bissot, Mounia Raoui, Redouane Behache, Baya Belal | Belgium
A loving mother snaps and murders her four children. We know this from the very opening of À perdre la raison, but it’s perhaps an indication of how jaded I’ve become that I was left almost completely unmoved by this movie. It could be that tabloid reports of similar events have inured me, but Joachim Lafosse’s understated yet paradoxically unsubtle directing is partly to blame, and Émilie Dequenne’s award-winning but too actressy by half performance certainly didn’t help. Dequenne plays Muriel, a young elementary school teacher whose marriage to Mounir (Tahar Rahim), a young Moroccan immigrant, has been controlled from the start by Mounir’s French sponsor and adoptive father André (Niels Arestrup). Muriel’s growing sense of entrapment is exacerbated by the fact that after she and Mounir marry she moves into André’s house where Mounir had already been living, and they continue living together even as the babies come and they all move to a larger house; throughout it all, André remains Mounir’s employer and sole source of income.
Tahar Rahim, an actor who continues to impress me, is excellent as Mounir, an utterly charming guy who you can suddenly find yourself realizing you don’t understand or really even know at all. I was less impressed by Niels Arestrup’s performance and I’ve joked, maybe unfairly, that I thought he was awake for most of his scenes. Their father/son dynamic worked better in Un prophète, I think, but perhaps that’s really only because their characters were more fully written in the Audiard film. When I really stop to think about what’s wrong it’s actually the screenplay that is most at fault, both in its structure — the film is an extended flashback from the opening scene — and in its underwritten characters. We know almost nothing of Muriel’s back story other than that she grew up poor, and the precise nature of André’s relationship not only with Mounir but all of Mounir’s family, both in France and in Morocco, is never made clear. Was it sexual? Is it still sexual? Is André’s interest due solely to his generosity? Why is it this family in particular that he’s been so generous to for so long? These appear to be questions that the screenwriters never paused to ask, let alone answer.