Our Children (2012)

Our Children (2012)

A nightmarish psychological thriller based on a harrowing true story

The Very Best

8.0

Movie

Belgium, France
Arabic, French
Drama, Romance
2012
JOACHIM LAFOSSE
Baya Belal, Claire Bodson, Émilie Dequenne
111 min

TLDR

It sounds impossible given the premise, but what happened after the film’s release deepens the tragedy even more.

What it's about

When a bright young woman marries her sweetheart, she inadvertently inherits his dependence on his controlling adoptive father, who forces them to live with him.

The take

Our Children opens at the harrowing end of the true story it’s based on: with the image of a distraught mother (Émilie Dequenne) in a hospital bed, begging a police officer to ensure that her children — who have just predeceased her — are buried in Morocco. From this ominous beginning, the film rewinds into a jarringly sunny flashback of lovebirds Murielle (Dequenne) and Mounir (Tahar Rahim) to tell this horrifying story from the start.

What follows is much less obviously dramatic: Our Children shifts into slow-burn psychological thriller territory as we watch the gradual breaking down of Murielle at the hands of Mounir’s adoptive father André (Niels Arestrup), a wealthy white doctor who has used his status to insinuate himself into the lives of Mounir and his family back home in Morocco. This is a very subtle study of manipulation, one that hinges entirely on the performances of the trio, who fill with nuance roles that could easily have been tabloid caricatures. Above all, though, this is Dequenne’s film, and it’s the devastating ways she shows the life gradually being sucked out of Murielle that makes Our Children so difficult to shake off.

What stands out

Dequenne’s gradual transformation from a happy young woman to a terrified pawn in André’s possessive power play is deeply distressing to witness. Anyone who’s seen Gena Rowlands’ superlative performance in A Woman Under the Influence will recognize similar senses of spiraling panic and helplessness in Murielle, as she’s gradually estranged from her family and made to feel like a burden in their claustrophobic shared home. A well-deserved winner of Cannes’ Best Actress award.

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