Cinema can often reflect the change in our societal norms, as has been evidenced with delayed coming-of-age stories such as Noah Baumbach’s Frances Ha or, more recently, Joachim Trier’s The Worst Person in the World. As the 2.4 children model of the traditional nuclear family becomes outdated by our increasingly progressive culture, writer and director Rebecca Zlotowski’s latest drama centres around a woman approaching middle-age without the apparent need or want for marriage or a child. Other People’s Children follows 40-year-old schoolteacher Rachel (Virginie Efira), whose comfortable Parisian lifestyle becomes complicated when she starts dating Ali (Roschdy Zem) and becomes emotionally attached to his young daughter Leila.
Shot with a style that possesses the vérité attributes of a social-realist piece, there is something strikingly authentic about this contemporary middle-class narrative. It straddle genres, shifting towards comedy, romance, and melodrama, but without settling in a specific category. This sense of neutrality works to the benefit of its relatability, and Rachel is faced with the judgement, pressures, and micro-aggressions associated with the gendered society we inhabit. As her relationship with Ali develops further, we witness the ebb and flow of her day-to-day as she balances the personal and professional aspects of life, and she soon begins to wrestle with her evolving stance towards the idea of being a mother.
Capturing the nuances of the protagonist’s situation with intelligence and compassion, the director Zlotowski fully realises the complexities of her script; she tells the story not in the black and white but through the many greys of this subject matter. It’s presented with a refreshingly open perspective, and Virginie Efira embodies this brilliantly in her central portrayal. Strong but vulnerable, held together but unravelling ever so slightly, there’s an inconsistency and an uncertainty to Rachel that makes her such a compelling, universal character to watch, and this makes for very effective slice-of-life cinema.
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