The Belier Family: Film Review
Cast: Louane Emera, Francoise Damiens, Karin Viard
Director: Eric Lartigau
With Christmas upon us, the annual cinematic line up heads more towards lighter fare - and this French film which played earlier in the year at the French Film Festival is one of the contenders for your time.
It's the story of the Belier family, who run a farm for a living in a small village in France. But their lives are different from others as three-quarters of them are deaf; the husband Rodolphe, the wife Gigi and the son Quentin. The only exception and window to the world outside is 16 year old Paula (Louane Emera) who hears normally but who interprets for the family.
However, that bond between the Belier family is challenged when Paula signs up for a music class at school because she likes one of the boys who also signs up. Equally challenging is that she discovers her voice and has a chance to go on to greater things in a national audition - but that would mean leaving her family behind.
There are moments in The Belier Family that are clearly pitched for farce rather than the usual solemn disability flick. The parents are sex-crazed animals, with one of the earlier scenes seeing Paula stuck in the middle at a doctor's appointment and trying to rationalise with her father to use the cream while her mother presses on with her desire to copulate. Also, the script sizzles with zingers like one telling Paula her moping over the boy makes her "like Bella from Twilight".
But at the same time in among the occasionally off-kilter silliness and at times over-acting (chiefly from Viard as the mother), there are some genuinely moving moments - and a star-making turn from the Chloe Grace-Moretz like Emera as the family rock, torn by her own coming of age and her love and familial bond.
One of the scenes that delves deep into poignancy of the drama and tragedy is a family confrontation when the mother reveals her heartache in discovering that her daughter can hear at birth and how she was different by not being deaf like them - it's dripping in sadness and guilt that is universal and touchingly delivered, never over-milked for the moment.
However, there are also frustrations - a side plot involving Rodolphe going for town mayor forms the start of the film and then simply falls by the wayside is one of the chief casualties as this relatively predictable tale plays out.
Thankfully, anchored by a star-making turn from Emera (I defy you to hold back the tears as she unleashes her audition song Je Vole by Michel Sardou while simultaneously signing for her parents in the audience) which is perfectly pitched, The Belier Family hits the right emotional notes and soars. Balancing the awkwardness, frailty and vulnerability of the self-deluded confidence of a teenager while never losing any of her appeal and over-playing the conflict, Emera is the main reason to see this French feel-good film that'll remind you of following your dreams while never forgetting where you came from.