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BFI London Film Festival 2012: 'Our Children' review

★★★★☆
Belgian writer and director Joachim Lafosse impresses with 'difficult' relationship drama Our Children (À perdre la raison, 2012), starring Émilie Dequenne and reuniting A Prophet (2010) lead duo Tahar Rahim and Niels Arestrup. Unequivocally tough and emotionally draining, Lafosse's latest makes no apologies for its bleak portrayal of a slowly disintegrating, non-traditional family unit, but remains a challenging, essential watch thanks to its on-form central triumvirate and resonant screenplay. What's more, despite revealing its dark finale in the opening few minutes, Lafosse's Un Certain Regard nominee retains a tense, tragic tone throughout.

A match made in Heaven appears to be on the cards when bright go-getter Murielle (Dequenne) meets and falls in love with Mounir (Rahim), a kind and considerate local Moroccan. A wedding between the two ensues, with the film's eponymous children (three in total) following soon after. However, with Mounir comes the enigmatic Doctor Pinget (Arestrup), his adoptive father who provides the newly-weds with a significant amount of financial (and moral) support. Trapped by her debt to Pinget - and unable to refuse him a residence in their home - Murielle begins to feel suffocated within this highly unconventional three-way relationship. Isolated and alone, Murielle withdraws into stoic depression, with ultimately tragic consequences.

The less you know about Lafosse's Our Children before viewing, the more impactful its dramatic twists and turns will become. Some commentators have raised issue with the film's intentionally revealing exposition, but as the director has himself claimed, the real weight of Our Children is to be found in the quiet, subtle dynamics working beneath the surface of the central triangle. Though never portrayed as a straight-forward antagonist, Pinget's slow and stealthy infiltration into the lives of his sponsored subjects is both unashamedly uncomfortable and endlessly watchable. As with his turn in A Prophet, Arestrup is seen here once again pulling the strings - this time as jailer rather than inmate.

Perhaps the biggest relief (in a film almost completely absent of it) is the astute and assured performance of Rahim as the pawn-like Mounir. Over the last couple of years, Rahim's performances have fallen well-short of his towering star turn in Jacques Audiard's 2010 Palme d'Or nominee, but here re-establishes his status as one of European cinema's most intriguing leading mean. However, top of the pile is Dequenne, turning what could have been a thankless, moping heroine into a complex, conflicted martyr, who sacrifices her own happiness for what seems like a better future for her beloved offspring.

Though pacing issues and its oppressive tone may leave some audiences cold, with Our Children Lafosse broaches some extremely difficult subjects with seriousness and intelligence. Whilst its hardly the type of film that you're likely to enjoy with a close family member, this is festival food-for-thought as its most confrontational.

The 56th BFI London Film Festival runs from 10-21 October. For more of our LFF coverage, simply follow this link.

Daniel Green

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