Gallic star Charlotte Gainsbourg makes a striking English-lingo debut in The Cement Garden, a moody, dramatically uneven drama of sibling incest and teenage alienation from British writer Ian McEwan’s 1978 first novel.
The movie is a family affair in more ways that one. Director Andrew Birkin (Burning Secret) is Gainsbourg’s uncle and his son Ned plays Charlotte’s youngest brother in the film.
Pic’s setting is a lone house amid a concrete wasteland. When the family’s stern father (Hanns Zischler) dies of a heart attack, mom (Sinead Cusack) buckles under the strain of rearing her four children and becomes bedridden. When she, too, dies, the elder kids secretly bury her body in a cement box in the cellar to avoid being taken into care.
Left to their own devices, the children start to give freer vent to their sexual confusion. The eldest, Julie (Gainsbourg), 16, plays with the incestuous infatuation of 15-year-old brother Jack (Andrew Robertson), as well as inviting round an elder boyfriend (Jochen Horst).
The pic lacks the straightforward dramatic smarts of Jack Clayton’s 1967 Our Mother’s House, also about moppets hiding their mom’s death. Birkin focuses more on the blurred areas between genders, and the vulnerable world of puberty blues.