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Review: Jeanne Leblanc’s Les Nôtres Is an Agonizing Depiction of Child Victimization

The film is a j’accuse aimed at those complicit in oppressing the most vulnerable in order to protect the powerful.

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Les Nôtres

Director Jeanne Leblanc’s Les Nôtres opens at a gala in Saint-Adeline, a fictional small town in Quebec. At the podium, accepting honors for guiding the city in its recovery from a devastating factory accident, is the mayor, Jean-Marc Ricard (Paul Doucet). Watching him from the audience, silent and enigmatically stoic, is Magalie Jodoin (Emilie Bierre), a 13-year-old who lost her father in the accident. Magalie’s blank stare and the sober movement of Leblanc’s camera through the festive event gives the scene a decidedly discomfiting and foreboding feel. And not long into this chilling parable of rape and emotional manipulation, our worst fears about what the scene is intimating turn out to be true.

Les Nôtres tells an agonizing story of child victimization in which nary an adult—outside of a mostly ineffectual social worker named Patrice (Guillame Cyr)—proves capable of making the decision or taking the action that we hope they would in their circumstances. Jean-Marc and Magalie, neighbors who live across the street from one another, are in a relationship that, we learn by implication when the teen begins examining her belly in a mirror, has resulted in a pregnancy. Leblanc and co-writer Judith Baribeau (who also stars in the film as Ricard’s wife, Chantale) give us such knowledge well in advance of other characters, letting us stew in it and dread the inevitable consequences that the young girl is incapable of knowing.

When the truth comes out, Magalie’s mother, Isabelle (Marianne Farley), who otherwise seems very much the mild-mannered liberal, has trouble keeping her frustration with her daughter from boiling into rage at her presumed promiscuity. Leblanc casts an utterly unsparing gaze at the sexualization of teen girls and how it affects the way mothers look at their daughters. Isabelle angrily drags the already-pregnant Magalie away from her friends at a middle-school soccer game because the girl seems too close to her longtime best friend, Manu (Léon Diconca Pelletier), Jean-Marc’s adopted son. She slips and says, “If it’s that little Mexican,” and the racism that’s baked into the small Quebecois community rears its head.

Such moments can be a bit on the nose; it would be plenty clear that the way the almost all-white community treats Manu, his school’s soccer star, is tied up with his race even without this and numerous other overt indications of their racism. Les Nôtres can also wax pop-psychological a little too literally, as in the scene where Jean-Marc is unable to perform in bed with Chantale, even as she puts on a mild bit of naughty-teen roleplay. But its harrowing depiction of the way a community can wholly fail not only to protect a young girl in trouble, but to treat her with any amount of dignity, has the emotional force of a lived reality.

Bierre gives an uncannily vulnerable performance rooted in the obliviously selfish pain of teenage-dom; torn apart by the loss of her father, Magalie has latched on to the male monster who insinuated himself into life by calling her his “princess” and insisting they’re in love. Her obstreperousness, her refusal to tell her mother what’s really going on, is understandable given the castigating social gaze that’s ruthlessly cast upon her, and which shields her rapist.

Far less sympathetic are her mother’s kowtowing to town gossip about her own daughter, Chantale’s willful repressing of the signs that her husband is a predator, and, of course, the crimes of the unrepentant man himself. While Leblanc’s squirm-on-the-edge-of-your-seat drama aims in part at the problems of provincial Quebec society, it’s obvious enough that its tale of a community’s complicity in oppressing the most vulnerable to protect the powerful is a j’accuse aimed at a much broader swath of modern society.

Cast: Emilie Bierre, Marianne Farley, Paul Doucet, Judith Baribeau, Guillaume Cyr, Léon Diconca Pelletier Director: Jeanne Leblanc Screenwriter: Jeanne Leblanc, Judith Baribeau Distributor: Oscilloscope Running Time: 103 min Rating: NR Year: 2020

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