Vive la difference and don’t you get it in spades with this unexpected, fun and fanciful comedy set in a small French provincial village. The Bélier Family concerns a 16-year-old girl, played by newcomer Louane Emera (a former contestant on the French version of television’s The Voice). Her close bond to her beloved family is challenged by the discovery of an extraordinary talent for music.
Emera’s mother, father and only sibling – a younger brother – are deaf and she acts as their indispensible interpreter. The Bélier family are dairy farmers and all pitch in. Mum and dad are delightful, open, forthright individuals, not at all concerned about calling a spade a spade. They certainly don’t like being patronised, like they are by the mayor. And so it is that Emera’s salt-of-the-earth father (François Damiens) decides to run in the upcoming mayoral elections, spurred on by his vivacious but overly exuberant mother (Karin Viard). Emera’s attentions are turned when she notices a handsome new boy at school sign up for the choir, so impulsively she joins too. It’s not long before her music teacher (Éric Elmosnino) discovers her considerable ability and his encouragement exacerbates Emera’s growing independence. But, of course, she worries about the impact that will have on her family.
Only the family’s son is deaf in real life, while mother and father must remain mute through the picture. For director Eric Lartigau the film plays at turning difference on its head. What amused him about the story was that “we end up wondering where normality lies”. Furthermore, Lartigau says “we have a talent for imprisoning ourselves in preconceived ideas”. He says working on the movie made him realise that deaf people do not have the same concept of relations with others.
It is easy to see why this manipulative, but heartwarming tale, has become France’s most popular picture this year, claiming awards for those playing mother and daughter. The characters are colourfully drawn and the dialogue is remarkably forthright. Just one example occurs when the parents have an intimate, sexually charged conversation with a doctor, with their daughter blithely translating. Forget any inhibitions or taboos. It is among the high points in a film in which there are many charming and surprising moments.
And that is the key to the success of this movie, the fact that it has the ability to surprise and features larger than life characters. The Bélier Family has warmth and intimacy, even if it feels like a manufactured fairy tale. In other words, you recognise that it is being staged for maximum effect or impact, but you remain besotted.Rated M, The Bélier Family scores a 7 to 7½ out of 10.
Director: Eric Lartigau
Cast: Karin Viard, François Damiens, Louane Emera, Eric Elmosnino
Release Date: 26 December 2015
David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television