An agonizing glimpse into a world of depression and tragedy, ‘Our Children’ is a great success in drawing us into a world that at first seems unfathomable, but its success makes for a viewing ordeal that will haunt you for weeks.
Director and co-writer Joachim Lafosse reportedly based his story on an item he read on the news. The fact that the story comes from such a dry, matter-of-fact source makes his smothering portrait all the more impressive.
His story begins with the birth of a young family. Attractive, young French girl Murielle (Émilie Dequenne) falls for handsome Moroccan adoptee Mounir (Tahar Rahim). With the help of Mounir’s loving, and rather wealthy, adoptive father (Niels Arestrup) they build themselves a home, find jobs, and have three lovely children. But as their married world builds up around them, Murielle feels more and more trapped.
The brilliance of this story comes from its dedication to portraying these lives in their fullest. There is no sense that these people must be totally ‘normal’ as a contrast to the building tragedy, nor are the immigration, financial and personal issues that develop allowed to be the obvious reasons for Murielle’s growing malaise. Instead, Lafosse focuses on watching everything grow like a cloud of ash, slowly smothering the troubled lead.
Underneath the layers of drama, problems, and isolation, feeble cries for help from Murielle fall on agonizingly deaf ears or, quite frequently, are responded to in ways that merely compound her depression.
Glimpses of identification or potential salvation come in the warmth of the Moroccan sun, but financial woes and language barriers thwart any hope of escape.
During all of the slowly rising drama, the three lead actors develop their characters in subtle, realistic ways that effectively remove any sense of storytelling artifice – leaving you clinging to the dramatic currents like a limpet on a sinking ship.
The film’s descent to its tragic ending is so complete and effective that you will inevitably felt feeling washed out, hollow and hopeless. It’s a harrowing experience, one I found myself resenting in the immediate aftermath of the credits. I asked myself, “why would they do this to me?”, “what’s the point of making me feel this way?”, “how are you helping me?”.
Such grasping for meaning is probably not far from Murielle’s early experiences of depression – and if that level of connection and understanding is not a good reason to put yourself through this, I don’t know what us.