The Lambs

Father Richard Berry

Father Richard Berry

Mother Brigitte Rouan

Marie Julia Maraval

Daniel Alexis Tomassian

Nadia Noemie Kocher

Cheesemaker Roger Jendly

Cheesemaker’s Wife Christine Rossigneux

Pitched somewhere between a murderous fairy tale and a dysfunctional family drama, “The Lambs” is a watchable, unsettling third feature by occasional picmaker Marcel Schupbach that’s held aloft by a meaty performance from French actor Richard Berry and excellent casting of young teens Julia Maraval and Alexis Tomassian as the titular telepaths. Foreign tube sales beckon.

Berry plays a wild, extremely incorrect father whose mantra is, “The weak have problems; the strong have solutions,” dragging son Daniel (Tomassian) and daughter Marie (Maraval) out of their beds for nocturnal boxing sessions and teaching them self-dependence at all costs. While Dad is romancing the tarty Nadia (Noemie Kocher), Mom is slowly croaking from some illness.

The inseparable kids, who can also read each other’s thoughts, decide enough is enough when the mother dies and father starts throwing the furniture out the window. Escaping into the hills, they’re first taken in by some over-friendly cheesemakers; later, when a guy puts the make on Marie at a disco, tragedy looms as the siblings protect their charmed state.

Schupbach tells the tale, adapted from a slim 1992 novel by Ania Carmel, in a plain, non-judgmental style, leaving the dark undercurrents to speak for themselves. In line with the film’s ironic tone, Berry’s father emerges more as a charming scumbag than a heavy villain, and the creepy kids (dubbed “my lambs” by Dad) as almost Cocteau-ish sexual innocents detached from the real world.

Tech credits are OK, and extracts from Bach’s Mass in B Minor add an irreal dimension.

The Lambs

(LES AGNEAUX)

Production: (SWISS) A JMH Distribution (in Switzerland) release of a Les Prods. JMH, Television Suisse Romande (Switzerland)/Galatee Films, France 3 (France) production. (International sales: JMH, Lausanne.) Produced by Jean-Marc Henchoz, Jacques Perrin. Executive producers, Michel Faure, Xavier Grin. Directed by Marcel Schupbach. Screenplay, Pascal Bonitzer, Schupbach, Olivier Dazat, Jean-Francois Goyet, based on the novel by Ania Carmel. Camera (color), Denis Jutzeler; editor, Bruno Zincone; music, extracts from J.S. Bach's Mass in B Minor; art direction, Jean-Claude Maret, Liliane Maret; sound, Jean-Louis Ughetto, Henri Roux, Marc Authesserre. Reviewed at Locarno Film Festival (Swiss competition), Aug. 11, 1996. Running time: 89 MIN.

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