Blended families, where children alternate between parents and spend their lives with a variety of half-siblings or children from their parents’ previous relationships, are now so normal that it’s easy to overlook how painful the blending process can be. Bitter separations, disorganized homes, new beds and new people appearing in them, the resentments children feel for adult failures, and intrusive new partners groping the mom or dad who is rightfully theirs: none of this. it’s easy, even in the splits then they were smoothly described as “friendly”.
Rebecca Zlotowski’s Venice Film Festival Competition Entry Children of Others (Les Enfants des Autres) he dives into those murky waters with clear empathy, acknowledging the cumulative power of small wounds. It begins with a new love story. Virginie Efira plays Rachel, a dedicated high school teacher in a district that clearly has its fair share of homeless people and troubled households. Roschdy Zem is Ali, an industrial designer she meets in her night class learning guitar. They are middle-aged but flirt like teenagers, spending nights together and soon making passionate declarations of love. Meanwhile, Rachel has yet to meet the former resident of the room in Ali’s apartment marked with large, colorful letters: her daughter, Leila.
When they meet, they take to each other immediately. Efira is better known outside of France as Paul Verhoeven’s mischievous nun. Benedetta, acting baggage that she inevitably brings to the drawn-out sex scenes in this movie, but she also has a sunny, motherly warmth as Rachel that lights up the screen. She indulges in family life, tells Leila stories and takes her to judo classes; she suddenly longs for pregnancy; she becomes distraught when Leila, tired to the point of a tantrum, asks her why she is always there and tells her father that she wants Rachel to leave her. That hurts, but Ali pushes aside the feeling of rejection from her. She is five years old, she says briskly. That’s what the kids say. And it’s not long before Leila draws a picture of her family that includes mom, dad, and Rachel too. That is a great gift.
Zlotowski builds this image of a family lurching toward a new order very gradually, incorporating other ingredients from Rachel’s life that give it a spectrum of emotional colors. Her sister, who does not have a partner, discovers that she is pregnant. That’s a bittersweet emotion for Rachel, who fears she’s going through menopause. Her own mother died when Rachel was nine, but she and her father form a close and noisy little clan, full of shared jokes and mutual teasing.
Time is marked in the film by the Jewish New Year celebrations, the family gathering outside the synagogue with his father and sister to sing the hymn of the season. The fact that Ali has an Arab background is never mentioned, but it certainly shows. Death, family, loss, the pull of tradition, the counterpulse of passion: Zlotowski achieves a complex mix of his own invention.
To the point where he undermines his own project with a dramatic twist that just seems unbelievable. The entire film has been earnestly devoted to showing a family making and remaking itself in a way that has hardly been explored on film, particularly in a brilliant art vehicle like this one. One step forward, two steps back and a shuffle: it’s not easy, but they’ll get by. This is the story he has been telling, only to veer off in another direction.
You might see it coming (the steps back could be read as signs), but it doesn’t make sense except as an injection of dramatic conflict into a story that doesn’t need amplification. Of course, it may ring true to you, but the disappointment isn’t just that I didn’t buy it. It’s that he downplays what he’s already accomplished, turning his story of building a family, which may or may not be successful but is his own story, into something much more conventional. other people’s children It is a film that matters, full of good performances. It just takes a wrong turn, that’s all.