×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘La Famille Belier’

The child of deaf parents finds her voice in this French crowdpleaser, starring young singing talent Louane Emera.

With:
Karin Viard, Francois Damiens, Eric Elmosnino, Louane Emera, Roxane Duran, Ilian Bergala, Luca Gelberg. (French, Spanish, Sign Language dialogue)

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3547740/

How many times can movies rehash the story of a child determined to pursue his or her passion butting heads with parents who refuse to understand? The beauty of the otherwise formulaic “La Famille Belier” is the way this affable crowdpleaser manages to twist its overplayed setup: Teenage Paula (played by Louane Emera, a semifinalist in France’s “The Voice” competish) discovers that she has a God-given talent for singing, but can’t communicate that desire to her deaf family. The scene in which she succeeds in sharing her gift with them, finally bridging the fact that they can’t hear, ranks as perhaps the most touching moment in French cinema last year. A holiday hit in Gaul, this feel-good family dramedy seems ripe for remake, though it would be tricky to release in its current form since the premise would play best to those with little patience for subtitles.

Still, a remake would be hard-pressed to find an actress as right for the role as Emera, whose convincingly awkward performance earned her a Cesar for most promising actress — and whose climactic cover of Michel Sardou’s “Je vole” (about a child spreading its wings and leaving the nest) leaves hardly a dry eye in the house. A slouch-shouldered, slightly heavy-set blonde whose posture conveys everything one needs to know about her lack of self-confidence, Emera plays Paula Belier, who as the only hearing person in her otherwise deaf clan, plays an essential role in running the family dairy-farming business.

When her father (Francois Damiens, goofy) decides to run for mayor, it falls to Paula to translate his speeches, and when her parents visit the doctor to discuss a rash that’s interfering with their intimate activities, Paula must once again play go-between. Her mother, Gigi (Karin Viard, stuffed into flower-print dresses and playing it slightly over-the-top, a la Jennifer Coolidge), can’t imagine life without Paula, which means any change would pose a challenge to their existing dynamic.

At first, Paula has no idea she can sing, but when cute classmate Gabriel (Ilian Bergala) signs up for choir as an elective, she and her oversexed best friend (Roxane Duran) decide to follow his lead. The choir director (Eric Elmosnino, the “Gainsbourg” star whose cartoonish portrayal here offsets Emera’s naturalism) recognizes Paula’s talent immediately and pairs her with Gabriel, to the teens’ mutual embarrassment. Though no Zac Efron, Gabriel strikes Paula as intimidatingly dreamy, and she suffers the ultimate humiliation, getting her first period during an afterschool practice session.

Where American family comedies tend to shy away from talk of sex and bodily functions (only to have the same subjects dominate R-rated comedies), “La Famille Belier” offers a more Judy Blume-like approach to such aspects: The Beliers are a sexually active clan, from Paula’s frisky parents right down to her younger brother Quentin (Luca Gelberg), whose virgin experience reveals a mortifying latex allergy. And then, with little explanation, the romantic subplot involving Gabriel evaporates mid-movie, leaving director Eric Lartigau to focus on the musical drama. If Paula pursues her dream, it will mean moving to Paris, which gets to the real conflict: Can the close-knit Belier family withstand Paula’s independence?

Again, it’s the deaf twist that sets the film apart, inviting several interesting creative choices along the way. Rather than subtitling the sign language, the film typically relies on Paula to respond or repeat what the other Beliers are saying, putting auds in the reverse position: If they can’t read signs, viewers must struggle to understand what’s being said. Meanwhile, oblivious to sound, her parents make a hilarious racket, banging pots in the kitchen and blasting music when they pick her up at school.

Paula is easily embarrassed, and the boombox in the back of Belier’s bright yellow delivery truck merely draws attention to the fact that they drive what looks like a European postal van. During the big school concert, Lartigau mutes the audio so we can imagine how her parents experience the show, relying upon the expressions on the faces around them to see how Paula’s singing touches the crowd — one of three creative strategies he devises to convey how the Belier family manage to “hear” their daughter at last.

Popular on Variety

Film Review: 'La Famille Belier'

Reviewed at UGC Cine Cite Les Halles, Paris, Dec. 17, 2014. Running time: 105 MIN.

Production: (France) A Mars Films release of a Jerico, Mars Films, France 2 Cinema, Quarante 12 films, Vendome Prod., Nexus Factory, UMedia production, in association with UFund, with the participation of Canal Plus, Cine Plus, France Televisions, M6, D8, with the support of Manon 4, Tax Shelter du Gouvernement Federal de Belgique et des Investisseurs Tax Shelter. (International sales: SND, Paris.) Produced by Eric Jehelmann, Philippe Rousselet, Stephanie Bermann.

Crew: Directed by Eric Lartigau. Screenplay, Victoria Bedos, Stanislas Carre de Malberg; story, Bedos. Camera (color), Romain Winding; editor, Jennifer Auge; music, Evgueni Galperine, Sacha Galperine; prodcution designer, Olivier Radot; costume designer, Anne Schotte; sound, Cyril Moisson, Fred Demolder, Dominique Gaborieau; assistant director, Denis Bergonhe; casting, Agathe Hassenforder.

With: Karin Viard, Francois Damiens, Eric Elmosnino, Louane Emera, Roxane Duran, Ilian Bergala, Luca Gelberg. (French, Spanish, Sign Language dialogue)

More Film

  • Ad Astra Box Office

    Box Office Battle: 'Ad Astra' Takes on 'Rambo: Last Blood' and 'Downton Abbey'

    “Hustlers” and “Good Boys” proved that even in the age of Marvel dominance and remake mania, movies that don’t exist within an established franchise can still be box office draws. Can “Ad Astra” continue that trend? The space drama — starring Brad Pitt and directed by James Gray — arrives on the big screen this [...]

  • Harvey Weinstein Accuser Lucia Evans Breaks

    Harvey Weinstein Accuser Lucia Evans Breaks Silence After D.A. Dropped Charge

    Lucia Evans gave a wrenching account on Tuesday of her efforts to hold Harvey Weinstein responsible for sexual assault, saying she felt betrayed after the Manhattan D.A.’s office dropped her allegations last year. Evans spoke to Variety after giving a speech at a conference on influencer fraud in Manhattan, making her first public comments on [...]

  • Ad Astra

    How 'Ad Astra' Production Crew Created Authentic Look for Brad Pitt Space Drama

    In “Ad Astra,” Brad Pitt’s astronaut Roy McBride crosses the solar system to find and confront his long-lost father, requiring the movie crew to create an authentic-looking future that conveys the theme of traveling long distances to learn the lesson that it’s where you started from that has the most value. “Visually, the aim was [...]

  • Nahnatchka Khan'Always Be My Maybe' film

    'Fresh Off the Boat' Creator Nahnatchka Khan Signs First-Look Deal With Netflix

    Netflix has signed “Fresh Off the Boat” creator and executive producer Nahnatchka Khan to an exclusive multi-year first look deal for feature films. Khan made her feature film directorial debut with “Always Be My Maybe” starring Ali Wong and Randall Park. The romantic comedy premiered on Netflix in May and was seen by 32 million [...]

  • The Mover

    Latvia, Kyrgyzstan, Montenegro, Costa Rica Announce Oscar Contenders

    Latvia, Kyrgyzstan, Montenegro and Costa Rica are the latest countries to announce their entries for the newly rebranded International Feature Film award at the 92nd Academy Awards. All four countries are seeking their first Oscar nomination in what was formerly known as the foreign-language film category. Latvia has selected Holocaust drama “The Mover” (pictured) as [...]

  • The Sky Is Pink

    Toronto Film Review: 'The Sky is Pink'

    Shonali Bose’s much-laureled 2014 “Margarita with a Straw” was a film whose presentation of a cerebral palsy-afflicted heroine sidestepped all the usual hand-wringing inspirational clichés of disability portrayal, making her story all the more enlightening and affecting. It is particularly disappointing, then, that the director’s followup should approach another tale of genetic infirmity with all [...]

  • Jodie Turner-SmithVariety Studio Comic-Con, Day 1,

    'Queen and Slim' Star Jodie Turner-Smith Joins Michael B. Jordan in 'Without Remorse' (EXCLUSIVE)

    After she plays the Bonnie to Daniel Kaluuya’s Clyde in Universal’s romantic thriller “Queen and Slim,” actress Jodie Turner-Smith will join Michael B. Jordan in Paramount’s adaptation of Tom Clancy’s “Without Remorse.” Turner-Smith will play Karen Greer in the movie. As recently announced, Jamie Bell will also co-star as Robert Ritter, the deputy director of [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content