Simon Jablonski talks to the Belgian film director about his new film, a chilling family drama based on real-life events, starring Émilie Dequenn and Tahar Rahim
“Men make films because they can’t have children and also maybe because they dream of being man and woman, or to be able to be a woman.” It’s an odd thought that skips from an idea about getting inside the head of a young mother who murders her four children. This is the end point of Joachim Lafosse’s latest film, Our Children; its climax, only in the way watching a car smashing into a wall could be considered so, it’s merely the end. This is not a spoiler. The film begins with its tragic end, and creeps towards with ever more sinister and revealing steps. “You know the Titanic sinks. We tried to do the same thing. But it’s not a shipwreck, it’s the family wreck.” When the lovebirds Murielle (Émilie Dequenne) and Mounir (Tahar Rahim) get married, they accept the enormous generosity in the form of a house from Dr. André Pinget (Niels Ardrup), Mounir’s adopted father. As the children arrive in quick succession, Mounir and André’s relationship intensifies and Murielle begins to feel trapped, with the kids, her husband and André as unwitting jailors.
Brilliantly paced, there are few hugely decisive turning points. Rather, like watching a child torture an insect, subtle dynamics of the characters twist around Murielle, slowly strangling and suffocating her — it’s painful to watch. “You can’t work with suspense with a film like this, it’s totally vulgar and disgusting. I prefer to work with dramatic irony, so the audience know more than the characters.” Though the film is inspired by a news story that gripped Belgium only a few years back, Joachim is keen to distance himself from the real events and even refused to meet with the people involved. “I’m not a policeman, I’m a cinematographer. I work with the emotion of the audience; not populist emotion, but an emotion that makes you question.”
The darkly fascinating part of the question that drives the film is imagining how an ordinary woman can be lead to such extreme action. And its Joachim’s pushing focus on the improbability of the murderer that make Our Childrenso compelling. “The reason I did this movie is when I began to read and hear the story and in Belgium I see that they create a monster of this woman. And for me it’s not possible. For me it’s the story of a woman who looses her way, but she’s not a monster.” No monster indeed. Most of the time the unfortunate trilogy are driven by doing what they think best. “What I was passionate about that inspired me wasn’t so much the murder of the children, but that Hell is paved with good intentions. It is the perfect tragedy. Altruism, generosity, the act of giving, these things create their perverse relationship. If evil was caused by evil, everything would be fine because everyone would be able to recognise it. And the character with whom we started was Mounir, for me that’s the most interesting character.”
An extra attraction is of course the dramatic on-screen reunion of Tahar Rahim and Niels Ardrup (the French Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor?), who blitzed audiences in A Prophet. For Lafosse, casting the two characters was obvious. “When I left the screening of A Prophet I had this feeling that I’d watched a homosexual relationship.” While not a romance, their on-screen chemistry is instant and unwavering. A tiring yet rewarding slog, Our Childrenpicks apart with tweezers the microscopic tensions that lie under this complicated love triangle. From its seemingly unbelievable beginnings, Joachim artfully leads you all the way to madness — which is as unnerving as it sounds. Our Children is out now