Reviews - La Famille Bélier
La Famille Bélier
Reviewed By Chris Coombes
What a great start to the Spring season! Keswick Film Club ran beautifully true to form on Sunday night by presenting a French comedy drama that made us feel good and allowed us - for 106 minutes - to forget the horrors in the wider world, the recent floods and the miserable January weather. The lights went down and we were transported to some other, preferable place.
A light touch has become the norm for the first film of each season and the large audience that turned out on Sunday was not disappointed. There we were, wrapped in a big fluffy duvet of wellbeing watching an oft-told story of the gold dust that is strong family loyalty and love and the bitter-sweet notion of a cherished daughter having to leave her family in order to find her own way in life. We see her parents struggle with the impending loss and can only admire their attempts to support her and each other.
The particular irony of this story is that music is the impetus for the daughter to develop and 'fly' whilst her mother, father and brother – all deaf – are denied access to full appreciation of the art form that drives her. The central character Paula is played by Louane Emera. Paula is 16 years old and her family rely on her to interpret for them in the hearing world and to help them run the family farm. She has a wonderful singing voice, which she discovers with the help of her music teacher and a boy with whom she sings a duet, and is offered – and eventually takes – the opportunity to go to choir school in Paris. This opportunity is clearly going to be the making of her and we watch as she grapples with the issues of leaving her family to their own devices and we hold back the tears (or not) as she learns that she can go away and yet retain the love of her family.
Emera gives an astonishingly good, simple, honest performance and is easily the strongest element of the film. There's something irresistible in watching a young person 'find her voice' against the odds, and it was clear from observing the smiles and tear dabbing that was happening as people left the Alhambra on Sunday that the film had worked its magic.
La Famille Belier, directed by Eric Lartigua had 6 nominations at the 2014 Cesar Awards, and Emera won for the Most Promising Actress, but the film is not without its detractors in the deaf community. For reasons that seem incomprehensible, the lead actors are not deaf, and for me this was a real weakness. Rebecca Atkinson writing for the Guardian goes so far as to talk of the 'casting of hearing actors to play the roles of deaf characters, the result of which is an embarrassing and crass interpretation of deaf culture and sign language'.
At the Keswick Film Club, though we like a bit of controversy with our films; we like to be left with some gritty discussion points, so maybe it's appropriate that after watching the unfolding of a cosy tale that gave us no plot surprises whatsoever, there was still plenty to talk about – particularly for those of us who saw 'The Tribe' at the Keswick Film Festival last year. This couldn't have been more different from last night's offering, and did take the brave step of working with deaf actors and sign language without subtitles.
That's what's so appealing about Keswick Film Club – always rewarding in so many different ways. Next week's film is Marshland, a Spanish thriller of a film noir persuasion. Hope you'll join us.
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