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Our Children

Film Review and Interview with director: Our Children by Joaquim Lafosse

By Adrienne Benassy

How to make infanticide understandable, human and almost forgivable? This is Joaquim Lafosse’s ambition in his latest film, Our Children, released in the UK on 10 May 2013. Pursuing his on-going obsession, the director immerses the audience in the universe of a dysfunctional family and sheds some light on the reasons that make women kill their own children.


Everything starts with a love story. Mouhir and Murielle are passionately in love. They get married and have children, but unlike any other couple they accept to live in the house of Mouhir’s adoptive father, the Dr Pinget.  Not only does the doctor cover all their expenses, they spend all their time with him and raise their children in his house. But Murielle does not feel it is her home. Dr Pinget’s constant presence is suffocating and Mouhir progressively abandons her emotionally. Murielle grows lonelier and suffers from anxiety attacks and depression. Unable to cope with this never ending nightmare, she kills her children one by one in the doctor's house and fails to commit suicide. Realising she has just committed a terrible crime in a moment of madness, she goes to the police to give herself up.

Based on a true story

Our Children is based on a true story. Geneviève Lhermitte (Murielle) and her Moroccan husband, Bouchaïb Moqadem (Mouhir) lived in the house of Doctor Michel Shaar, Bouchaïb’s adoptive father. He financially supported the whole family, and according to Mme Lhermitte, intruded upon their intimacy. In February 2007, Murielle killed her five children one by one in their house in Nevilles, Belgium. Our Children resembles in many aspects the case of Geneviève Lhermitte. Nevertheless it is not an exact version of the facts. Joaquim Lafosse and the actors did not investigate the case in depth, and preferred to approach infanticide as a universal issue from their own subjective view point.


By freely interpreting the Geneviève Lhermitte affair, J. Lafosse can focus on the reasons for which a woman could commit such a crime.  instead of analysing this case in particular. She kills her children as the ultimate mean to escape from house. The infanticide therefore appears to be simultaneously a moment of extreme cruelty and tenderness. It becomes a sign of human despair instead of an incurable monstrosity. The silent tension and Murielle’s suffering is brilliantly interpreted by Emilie Dequenne (Feminine Interpretation Prize in Cannes in “Un Certan Regard” category), who manages to keep a good distance with such a complicated and disturbing subject. The film is thought-provoking, but its slow rhythm sometimes loses the audience's attention. 

Interview with Joaquim Lafosse

What drew you to the Geneviève Lhermitte affair?

In Belgium, people were describing Geneviève Lhermitte as a monster, which is very violent. Indeed it is a monstrous act, but I would not say she is a monster. There are reasons for which one loses one's mind. I am not trying make excuses for her, trying to explain, nortrying to unveil the truth. Cinema is not meant to do that. 

Dr Shaar, who is the equivalent of Dr Pinget in the film, regretted in an interview that you took Geneviève Lhermitte's side. Did you try to defend this woman?

The film is not about him as such. I have never been in this house, I do not know how they spoke, it only is my imagination. He is comparing himself to someone he is not. 

Maybe, but you chose to film this story with a realistic aesthetic, which gives the impression that you are telling the truth on the Lhermitte affair. 

If the public believes what they see, it is not my fault. But they are not stupid, they know a film is not the truth. It is a subjective piece of work, inspired by media coverage, which already is no longer the truth. What interests me is to make a movie on domination, on the loss of autonomy, on the need to emancipate, on what it is like to be a mother. 

You did not shoot the infanticide scene. Is that a way of softening the crime, to forgive it? 

When you film violence instead of suggesting it, you use means you are fighting against. When you witness a violent event, you get into a state of shock which forbids you from thinking. Yet, I wanted to make the audience reflect on the matter as soon as they step out of the theatre rather than film a popcorn movie about violence. As soon as you film violence, the spectator starts taking pleasure out of it, and I did not want that. 

In your opinion, why does Murielle stay in this terrible situation which led her to killing her own children?

In a way, she is sadomasochistic. She could have got out of this house and left this infernal group, but she did not. Dr Pinget and Mouhir do not have to put up with this situation, they could have gone to Marrocco. Betrayed, she kills her children as a act of revenge and to spare them more time living in what she believes is a nightmare. These imbrications are great material for a script. A film implies many different interpretations, ideally as many as there are people in the cinema, but the director should not give his own. 

Had you thought of the two actors in The Prophet (Tahar Rahim and Niels Arestrup) from the start?

At the start, Gérard Depardieu was meant to play the doctor, but he stepped out of the project two months before the beginning. Tahar Rahim then told me he wanted to play opposite Niels Arestrup. As they had already played together in The Prophet, people might say that I lack originality. Eventhough the project was daunting, it actually was a good idea. Putting Emilie Dequenne in the middle of an established movie couple made her closer to her character, who has to deal with the strong ties between her husband and his adoptive father. 

On set, was Emilie Dequenne actually excluded from Niels Arestrup and Tahar Rahim, exactly like her character?

No, strangely enough I was the excluded one. Thankfully Emilie Dequenne was very close to Tahar Rahim and Niels Arestrup, but I was out. I had to bow in front of the actors who took over my script. This should happen to all film directors. Not only is it very a violent experience but it gives excellent results. 

On the first day of shooting, they told me "If we are not as good as in The Prophet, people will say that Audiard is a prerequisite to our talent". The film's quality put a whole lot of pressure on us all. They were really worried and it created a very tense atmosphere on set and I quickly understood I had to let them embody their characters without interferring. 

Was it the first time you were evicted from your own movie?

It was quite painful, but it was in the name of a great movie. Niels Arestrup taught me that when actors are good, it is not such a problem if things do not turn out as you would like them to. Because you are not there to make friends but to shoot a good movie. I am very proud now and I do not think I have been sucked out of my film. I just realised that when the actors got almost obsessive with their characters, my place as a director was difficult to find. 

Dr Pinget's power over Mouhir can be seen as a neocolonial metaphor, as if the former Empires did not want to let their colonies achieve independence. Is that your message?

I think we have a dual and ambiguous relationship with Africa, in France and in Belgium. I do not think we really want these regions to be fully indenpent. When they start to stand on their own feet, we cut all ties with them. When you have children you are meant to let them fly out of the nest one day, but Dr Pinget never lets Mouhir go.


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