A stunning and suffocating Quebecois drama, Les nôtres spotlights the exquisite directorial form of filmmaker Jeanne Leblanc and the industry potential of lead actress Emilie Bierre. When a teenage girl becomes pregnant, she conceals the facts from her family and friends. Through prolonged silence and tightly-framed close ups, Les nôtres peers into the mind of a pessimistic youth.
Les nôtres stars Bierre as Magalie Jodoin, a 13-year-old who discovers that she’s in the second trimester of a pregnancy. Everyone assumes that it’s the result of a casual fling with local boy Manuel (Léon Diconca Pelletier), but it’s quickly revealed that the town’s Mayor, Jean-Marc Ricard (Paul Doucet), is the actual father. Rather than outing the predator, Magalie weighs her options while observing the behavior of neighbors and her mother, Isabelle (Marianne Farley). She reaches a sobering decision that raises questions about one’s interpretation of true horror.
An early scene in Les nôtres reminds of an opening moment in Jean-Luc Godard’s Vivre sa vie, a 1962 film about a woman who feels trapped by societal expectations. In both productions, the female protagonists are filmed from behind via medium-range shots, with the staging and framing suggesting a lack of personal identity, or that the characters feel unseen in their respective environments. During Les nôtres, Magalie’s teenage confusion becomes profoundly heartbreaking because of her dysfunctional relationships with adults, whereas Anna Karina’s Vivre sa vie character — a twenty-something woman named Nana — dances around the city while manipulating situations to her advantage (only to be ultimately betrayed). Leblanc’s film doesn’t consist of big ACT-ING moments that mainstream audiences might expect (or even the clever philosophizing of a pretentious indie film), but Tobie Marier-Robitaille’s meditative and engaging cinematography most definitely amplifies the film’s value, and steadily reminds the viewer to consider Magalie’s perspective, with Leblanc’s direction suggesting that the protagonist’s observations don’t result in a fractured mind but rather clarity. There’s a dream-like aesthetic in certain Les nôtres sequences, which may remind Kirsten Dunst fans of her moody performance in the 1999 drama The Virgin Suicides.
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Bierre’s acting in Les nôtres feels similar to Dunst’s character interpration in Lars von Trier’s 2011 drama Melancholia. The younger performer wears a resting look of skepticism all throughout the Quebecois film, almost like Magalie knows that her community will fail her somehow. Even though Bierre stays mostly restrained, her character does indeed lash out in one specific scene — a moment of release for young Magalie, and a moment for the audience to truly empathize with her plight. From act to act, it’s somewhat difficult to read Les nôtres’ protagonist, partially because of her closed-off demeanor and suggestive statements made by members of her community. By the climax, Bierre’s piercing gaze reveals the toughness of Magalie, even if the character’s decisions may seem perplexing. Much like in the aforementioned Melancholia, there’s a feeling of cosmic doom that the female protagonist senses, evidenced by Magalie’s long upward stares during moments of reflection or a staggering landscape shot that calls back to the opening Godardian imagery. Bierre’s teenage character may feel alone in the world, and she’s definitely misunderstood, but at least Magalie has someone (Manuel) to stand by her side when the universe seems like it’s ready to implode.
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Based on Bierre’s filmography and Les nôtres performance, she seems to be one of her country’s most promising actresses. In the future, perhaps a forward-thinking Quebecois filmmaker, such as Leblanc, will pair Bierre with the up-and-coming Canadian starlet Julia Sarah Stone, who is similarly well-versed in communicating despair and angst (see Honey Bee and Come True). Until then, Les nôtres is worth a watch thanks to Leblanc and Judith Baribeau’s iceberg-style storytelling, which asks the audience to think deeply about the sound (and consequences) of silence.
Q.V. Hough (@QVHough) is Vague Visages’ founding editor.