Claude Mourieras’ third feature — the tale of an inbred farming family in a spectacular Alpine backwater — puts a new spin on the dysfunctional family relationships he explored in his best-known film, “Sale gosse.” The new pic, which has won France’s prestigious Jean Vigo prize, is likely to move audiences and should play the fest route this summer as well as find niche distribution in several territories.
Mourieras is here working with truly sensitive themes, exploring the place of the mentally and physically retarded in so-called normal society and the way families have to come to terms with their “problem” children. Avoiding sentimentality, the filmmaker has come up with a warm, human, at times humorous pic on this tricky subject.
The Ducrets are a close-knit family, fiercely protective of one another. Luc (Frederic Pierrot), a Communist and Soviet sympathizer, wanted to be a cosmonaut but wound up farming cows. Wife Jeanne (Muriel Mayette), has never acknowledged the shame over their decision to abandon their severely deformed firstborn son, Jules, to an institution at birth. Luc and Jean have not told their other three children about Jules, and almost seem to have wiped his existence from their minds.
Second son Julien (Vincent Deneriaz), who is mentally retarded, is beginning to be a problem. He spends his time talking to his favorite cow, whose calf was born with two heads. At 19, Julien is beginning to show interest in girls; his sister tries to teach him how to kiss, but he has no social graces, and frightens the girls he approaches.
A local psychiatrist is trying to help the family solve their problem with videotaped therapy sessions, but he gets little cooperation from the children. As Julien grows increasingly antisocial, the local police begin to put pressure on his parents to have him institutionalized, a proposal his grandmother and his mother, who considers him merely “sensitive,” vehemently reject. Luc remains undecided.
When eventually Grandma spills the beans about Jules, Julien, who has been given a moped for his birthday, decides to “rescue” his brother and bring him home.
Mourieras’ sensitive handling of this material imbues these tormented characters with plenty of depth and, above all, humor. The film is almost a comedy of misfortune, but one with a great deal of depth and compassion.
Mayette and Pierrot, the only professional actors in the film, are ably supported by the non-pro cast members, and Deneriaz is particularly good as the hulking, disconnected Julien.
Cinematographer William Lubtchansky makes a fine contribution, his camerawork especially notable in the cramped interior scenes of the farmhouse.