This French movie opens with a woman (Émilie Dequenne) in the hospital telling the doctors to make sure her children are buried in Morocco, while cutting to several tiny coffin-sized boxes being loaded on to planes before flashing back 10 years.
I’ve heard this described as a spoiler, but really, when you start a movie like that, you’re using the shock to grab people, and telling them you’re going to explain how this terrible tragedy came to pass.
Critics love this movie. Love it. 92% on Rotten Tomatoes. Audiences are decidedly cooler at 65%. So, what I figured is that, this would be really depressing and grim, and people don’t really want to see that (while critics just wallow in it), so we went in with that in mind, and popcorn and sodas in hand. (I admit to a kind of perverse pleasure in that.)
And, honestly, I came out thinking both critics and audiences had oversold it. It’s not that it’s depressing; it’s that it never lives up to the beginning/ending. In fact, it’s so undeserving of the deaths of four young children, I’ve begun to wonder if the whole thing is just a metaphor for French/Moroccan relations.
They eat that stuff up in France, I guess. We sure see it a lot.
The basic premise is that Murielle (a French girl) and Mounir (a Moroccan) are in love and want to get married, and while Mounir’s stepfather Dr. Andre Pinget (Niels Arestrup, Sarah’s Key, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly) is against it on the basis of their cultural differences but comes around.
And it turns out that Mounir is very dependent on the doctor, and the three of them live together during the course of their young marriage. And, from the reviews, it seems like most people interpret this as the Doctor being the cause of their problems.
I didn’t really get that. I didn’t entirely buy the notion of the not-always-honest Doctor being able to come between them, as they seemed to communicate pretty well. But even if we buy it, the Doctor wasn’t really a bad guy, just kind of a dick from time-to-time. As were they all. As are we all.
Especially when we have four young children practically back-to-back that need taking care of. Meanwhile, when he’s not being a jerk, he’s a big help.
The money thing was kind of slippery, since the Doctor at times seemed to be made out of money that he gave freely, while at the same time, Murielle can’t stay at home because it’s too expensive to live in the city (Paris, if I recall correctly).
Anyway, a depression settles on Murielle, and she becomes more and more detached and alienated, despite the happy pills and therapy. The therapy is kind of interesting, because in order to get it, she has to game the system. The Doctor writes the prescription, which is a no-no, because he lives with them.
Oh, and he’s married to Mounir’s sister, though this is a paper marriage, designed to rescue her from Morocco. Their mom and younger brother are still back in the old country, and part of the discussion is about how to get the brother over.
Meanwhile, Murielle wants to raise the kids in Morocco, which The Doctor derides for the stupidity it is. (Although, I guess if he’s supposed the problem that would help.)
So, maybe it works well as an analogy for French-Moroccan relations, but it never really earns its beginning. In fact, the actual end is a cop-out, from a literal standpoint. If characters are to be sympathetic, we must see them at their worst, or it’s dishonest.
Also, it’s pretty obvious how things are going to go pretty early on. You kind of think maybe there’ll be something shocking or a twist, but no. It’s almost a clichéd testament to ennui.
The acting is excellent, however.
The director is Joachim Lafosse, who did The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, which was similarly highly critically praised.