Scenes From A Marriage: Our Children 

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Our Children
Directed by Joachim Lafosse

This domestic drama, the fifth feature by Belgian director Lafosse, derives what power it has from the face of Émilie Dequenne (Rosetta)—her pained expression haunts the film, her features pinched in an anxiety of uncertain depth as she toils in the laundry room or otherwise scrambles to care for her multiplying brood. Imagining the human story behind a real-life tabloid horror, Our Children moves her to center stage as she becomes an increasingly marginalized figure in her own family.

The film’s lede, as it were, establishes that things won’t end well: an early shot observes four small white coffins being loaded into a plane’s cargo hold. Lafosse then flashes back as transplanted Moroccan Mounir (A Prophet star Tahar Rahim) falls for schoolteacher Murielle (Dequenne), the pair eventually settling down in the well-kept flat of Mounir’s vaguely shifty adoptive father, Dr. André Pinget (Niels Arestrup). One baby follows another in rapid succession, with the narrative time between a couple of the film’s several births compressed into the space of just a few shots.

The combination of an almost disconcertingly fleet pace and a general strategy of arthouse-elliptical withholding (conflicts only partially come to a head during brief can-I-have-a-word-with-you exchanges) mutes the film’s dramatic interest. But Lafosse’s emphasis on external circumstances over internal motives at least keeps the dynamics of the relationships curiously charged. Our Children comes to concern the souring, by almost imperceptible degrees, of the main characters’ domestic arrangement, even after they relocate to a larger estate in the sticks. The film zeroes in on the good doctor’s patronage as a de facto method of control, since Mounir has long been in his care and the only outside family member Murielle remains in contact with is her brassy sister. When he hears of Mounir and Murielle’s tentative plan to move to Morocco to raise their children in a less cooped-up environment, André abruptly threatens to cut them off altogether; long after it becomes clear that that plan is off, he chastises them for even floating the idea of raising their daughters—his “grandchildren”—in the developing world.

André and Mounir continue to come and go together, while André dismisses Murielle’s expressed desire for time to herself by chiding her for feeling entitled to such a thing. André’s position is that, thanks to him, the family confronts only trivial first-world problems. But, of course, the overbearing patriarch has long since become something of a problem himself—as evidenced by the speed of Murielle’s under-duress decline, played by Dequenne quietly, but effectively, as a full-body shuddering.

Opens August 2

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