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Friday 18 October 2019

Children's tragic tale

Devastating: Fragile mother Murielle murders her children.
Devastating: Fragile mother Murielle murders her children.
Paul Whitington

Paul Whitington

Film Review: Our Children (No Cert, IFI, 114 minutes) ****

Director: Joachim Lafosse Stars: Niels Arestrup, émelie Dequenne, Tahar Rachim, Stéphanie Bissot

Joachim Lafosse's Our Children is a beautifully made and devastatingly effective drama that builds slowly towards a truly horrific climax. It's so good, in fact, that you almost want to forget the fact that it's morally problematic, not just because of its gruelling subject matter – maternal infanticide – but because it's based on a true story.

One gloomy Wednesday afternoon in February, 2007, a Belgian woman called Genevieve Lhermitte slit the throats of her five children with a knife she had stolen from a grocery shop.

Lafosse's film is so closely based on the Lhermitte affair that the woman's husband and father-in-law tried – and failed – to force the filmmaker to give them script approval. And one can see what they were worrying about, because neither the husband nor the father-in-law in this story emerge in a particularly flattering light.

Belgian actress Émelie Dequenne is Murielle, a wide-eyed young schoolteacher who thinks all her dreams have come true when her Moroccan boyfriend Mounir (Tahar Rahim) asks her to marry him. She says yes, and their lavish wedding is funded by Mounir's unofficial guardian, Doctor André Pinget (Niels Arestrup).

The doctor seems like a goodhearted fellow: he allows the young couple to live with him, and buys a house for them all when children start arriving. But as the story unfolds, Pinget emerges as a coldhearted monomaniac who hides his cruelty behind a veneer of bourgeois respectability.

Mounir is hardly the model husband either, and soon the mentally delicate Murielle is struggling to cope with four young children and an unhappy marriage.

From the very start of Our Children, it's obvious that Murielle and Mounir's happiness is tinged with dread, and Lafosse builds his tension masterfully.

Mini episodes of exponential dysfunction are punctuated by mournful blasts of Haydn's Stabat Mater, and Dequenne's excellent portrayal of the pitiful Murielle climaxes in a scene where she breaks down in her car while listening to Julien Clerc's thoroughly ridiculous pop song Femmes je vous aime.

For all its strengths, however, Lafosse's film skates very close to sympathising with its demented protagonist, and seems to offer glib explanations for an incomprehensible crime.

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