Our Children [A Perdre la Raison] Movie Review
One of the most unsettling movies of the year, this sharply made drama shifts inexorably from blissful romance to something darkly horrific. It's so understated that it might alienate audiences who want everything carefully explained to them. But the problem is that we understand far too well why the story goes where it goes, and that makes it even more haunting.
Based on a true story, the film opens with a brief glimpse of a terrible family tragedy before flashing back to happier times. Now living in Belgium, Moroccan-born Mounir (Rahim) has a whirlwind romance with Murielle (Dequenne). After they get married, they move in with Mounir's friend Andre (Arestrup), a doctor who married Mounir's sister (Raoui) so she could get a European visa. As Mounir and Murielle have four children in quick succession, she struggles with their domestic situation, longing for a family home of their own. She even offers to move to Morocco to live near Mounir's mother (Belal). But Andre seems to have some strange hold over Mounir.
As the years pass, Murielle's quiet desperation grows inexorably, although the film's audience seem to be the only ones who notice. Dequenne's performance is a masterful depiction of submerged emotion as she struggles to quietly cope with Andre's passive-aggression and Mounir's cultural machismo. So as the tension rises, we react like her, clinging to happier moments and possibilities rather than face up to the raw facts. This wouldn't work as well as it does without the superior work from Rahim and Arestrup, who previously starred together memorably in A Prophet. They cleverly refuse to let their characters drift into any sort of stereotype.
Filmmaker Lafosse skilfully tells the story through Murielle's eyes, so we can't see all of the facts. Like her, we begin to doubt Mounir's stories of where he goes when he travels. And our suspicions grow about the nature of his relationship with Andre. It's only in the shocking final scene that Lafosse pulls back from Murielle's perspective, because by then we understand her a little too clearly and wish we didn't. Yes, this is masterfully confrontational filmmaking that doesn't let us rest easily on our own expectations and preconceptions. And in its careful depiction of one woman's fragility, it offers a vital, unforgettable lesson.