“The Children of Others”, a film full of nuances in the place of the mother-in-law

In fiction as in the collective imagination, the mother-in-law does not always have the best role. She is Cinderella’s stepmother, the nagging step-daughter who troubles the family and has a passion for lecturing parents on how to educate their children.

But, we all know a mother-in-law – apparently, there are some good ones. And in real life, she is (rarely) an evil caricature with crooked nails: just a woman who, in love, must make room in her daily life for children who are not hers. With Other people’s childrenwhich was presented in competition at the Venice Film Festival and which will be released in cinemas on September 21, Rebecca Zlotowski finally gives a little nuance to this delicate role taken by many women.

A rare delicacy

Virginie Efira, whose list of Cesarisable roles continues to grow over the years, plays Rachel, 40 years old and childless. While the heroine falls in love with Ali (Roschdy Zem), she also meets his adorable 4-year-old daughter, Leila.

One would expect a series of battles to emerge from this story: a rivalry between Rachel and Ali’s ex-wife, Alice (Chiara Mastroianni); anger on the face of this child who is not his; or a host of arguments with Ali, who is torn between his responsibilities as a father and a lover.

But Rebecca Zlotowski’s film avoids these pitfalls and, with great delicacy, avoids conflict at every turn. Because the emotional impact of this new daily life, for all the characters, is already rich and complex enough.

Amazing representation

In the film, Rachel is eager to meet Leila, and is immediately won over by the girl. He is also good to Alice, the boy’s mother. Which is not to say that his new role isn’t a minefield. Rachel must constantly adapt, and learn to take on new responsibilities (like the simple fact of planning a snack when she takes Leila to judo).

The pressure she feels is twofold: with Leila’s little mistake, Rachel could lose Ali, and if she and Ali break up, she will lose her relationship with Leila as well. Virginie Efira gives, as usual, an overwhelming performance, able to overwhelm us with a simple look. All the issues of the film are in the dialogues, subtle and organic, where a simple sentence from Leila (“Why is Rachel always there?”) acts like a deflagration.

Rebecca Zlotowski, whose pen and vision are constantly refined with each new film, offers the subject with such a unique nuance and interest that, facing the screen, one has the impression of discovering for the first time this universal theme. In addition to this to correct a void in the fictional representations that the filmmaker wants to make his film.

As he explained in his note of intent, the character of the mother-in-law is “Usually a supporting character, sometimes an extra, who has to leave when the love story ends. Why is this woman, who lives a common experience – one that I myself lived – never had one Are you a movie hero? With Other people’s childrenI just wanted to make the movie that I needed to see, thinking that maybe others should see it as well.”

childless mother

He is not a good mind, and his representation of step-parenthood (or the ideal gynecologist, embodied by Frederick Wiseman) is not the only gift he gives us. Rebecca Zlotowski treats nulliparity with equal finesse, this state that we are sometimes sold, in fiction, as a serious flaw.

Although the relationship between Rachel and Leila is the focus of the film, Other people’s children is also a film about the ambiguity of the desire for motherhood, and the mourning that it is sometimes necessary to make for children that one will never have. Rachel is fulfilled in her life, she is kind, surrounded, loved. This did not stop her from asking herself, when she was over 40, about the weaker possibility of having a child.

When a co-worker asks him if it’s the end of the world without one, he thoughtfully replies: “No, it’s not the end of the world. I’m even a little proud that I’m in the group of those who didn’t. And it’s not like I think you need it to complete it. But it’s still a great collective experience, going through at all, and to which I have no access.

Whether we have children or not, Other people’s children manages to provoke intimate questions about our parenting relationship. Its title refers to Leila, but also to all the other children of others whom Rachel loves and helps to grow: her students, her friends, her sister, her niece. Facing the film, we find ourselves thinking about our own mother and all the people who, who did not give birth to us, one day gave birth to us.

Other people’s children

by Rebecca Zlotowski

with Virginie Efira, Roschdy Zem, Anne Berest

Duration: 1h43

Sessions

Released September 21, 2022

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