Review by Allison Brown, Josh at the Movies
Other People’s Children has had a healthy festival run, including stops at Venice, TIFF, and Sundance, and it does not disappoint on that hype. Writer/director Rebecca Zlotowski lays out an honest and deeply feminine story exploring the nature of stepparenting, the biological clock and fertility struggles, complicated relationships, and loneliness.
Rachel Friedmann (Virginie Efira) is a high school teacher genuinely interested in the success of her students. She takes guitar lessons after work with car designer Ali (Roschdy Zem), and love blossoms rapidly. Soon after their first night out, they are rolling around in bed. Despite a female director, I think there is a bit of gratuitous nudity. This is the case for many of Efira’s projects, so perhaps it is a matter of personal preference.
Ali has a complicated history and a four-year-old child, Leïla (Callie Ferreira-Goncalves). His ex-wife, Alice (Chiara Mastroianni), wanted a second child, but Ali was not interested. Distraught, Alice cheated on Ali, and he found out, so she fell into the arms of her first love, Christophe. They are still on good terms for the sake of their child, but Rachel is forced to form some sort of a relationship with Alice as well to be in Ali and Leïla’s life. Leïla quickly grows sick of Rachel following their introduction and questions why she is always around. After all, Ali loves her mother, not this strange woman. Rachel is understandably hurt as she begins to fall in love with the child as well.
After a doctor’s visit, Rachel is told she has few follicles left and must genuinely consider getting pregnant as quickly as possible lest she lose the opportunity to be a mother. The comedy is expertly paired with deep emotionality. Amid this urgent struggle, the doctor who gives her the advice looks like he is knocking on death’s door and even makes the joke himself. Rachel believes she has finally found her soulmate in Ali and begins to see him as a potential father. After her relationship with Leïla begins to flourish, Rachel realizes she genuinely wishes to be a mother and subsequently sets the path of the film.
As a member of the tribe, I was pleased to see how effortlessly and accurately Judaism is woven into the film. Rachel, her father, and her sister attend Rosh Hashana services and are worried they might miss the blowing of the shofar and place stones on their late mother’s grave. A peak comedic moment is a stop at a gravestone on the way home that simply reads “Pussy.”
With 2021’s Benedetta and TIFF’s Paris Memories, Virginie Efira has proved herself a force to be reckoned with and has cemented her place as one of my favorite foreign actresses. As in prior work, Efira produces a tender and poignant performance in Other People’s Children that dares the viewer to restrain tears. Although a wonderful film, it does have some faults. Zlotowski’s editing style is somewhat dated, with her choice to overuse iris shots. The pace sometimes feels hurried as it moves from one stage of her relationship to the next, but it eventually equalizes at the midway point. I hoped Rachel would be provided a happy ending, but the denouement is bittersweet. Instead, she is left with an inspirational message, but still unfortunately incomplete.
Other People's Children opens in theaters on April 21.