“The Fam” (“La Mif”), Swiss filmmaker Fred Baillif’s bruising, raw portrait of the residents and staff of a Geneva teen girl care home, has been secured for international sales by Latido Films in the run-up to its world premiere at this years’ Berlinale Generation 14Plus.
The Madrid-based sales company has also shared with Variety in exclusivity a first two-minute trailer. The pickup is believed to have been made in a competitive bidding situation with other sales agents circling a title which questions the weaknesses of what Baillif describes as a retrograde juvenile system.
He should know. After a 7-year career as a professional basketball player and member of the Swiss national team, Baillif enrolled at Geneva’s Social Work Institute in 1997 and found a job in a youth detention center, later working for the city of Geneva as a street social worker.
Inspired by several women who opened up to him about being socially abused, Bailiff approached Claudia Grob, more than 20 years after he had worked for her when studying social work. Remarkably, he persuaded her and the teen residents and other employees of a real-life Geneva residential care home to play characters – developed over two years of workshops, in a fiction feature which is nevertheless shot in a cinema verité style and uses direct cinema improvisation.
The result is a film that questions not only Switzerland’s youth protection system but also notes the haunting fragility of the bedrock social unit, the family.
Produced by Baillif’s own label, Freshprod, and RTS, a Swiss public television, “The Fam” is split into episodes which are portraits of individual girls at the care home. Taking in the oldest, Audrey, just turned 18 and soon to leave the home, to the feisty Novinha to Alison who’s in love with Caroline, another resident, and Grob’s own character, Lora, the care home head, “The Fam” charts the deepening divisions between Lora and her care home board, especially regarding sexuality.
Amid scenes of joy, catfights, it also gradually teases out the subject that inspired it: Abuse, whether sexual, psychological or self-inflicted – as in the deep guilt felt by one of the girls, Justine – as it traces a pattern in the girls of pain, anger and a search at the home for a sense of family and self-worth which has been destroyed by their past.
The trailer introduces some of the film’s main characters – such as the serial-cussing Novinha, victim of her mother’s neglect – and the divisive theme of sex. “Sexuality is not a crime. It needs to be taught,” Lora argues to her board, who would prefer it to be repressed altogether and the care home become, as Lora puts it, “a prison.”
The trailer also records the remarkable performances of the care home teens and a sense that, while these girls are victims of parental horror and the complicity of family members who stood by and say nothing – the care home teens are still treated by many, such as the home’s board, as if in some way they are offenders.