Light-hearted coming-of-age dramedy La Famille Bélier (released as The Bélier Family in some countries) was a surprise hit in France, picking up a number of award ceremony nominations and wins in 2015, including Most Promising Actress at the Césars for its star, Louane Emera. She plays 16-year-old Paula Bélier, the only hearing person in a family of four, and the story is concerned with a year in her life as she joins the school choir and supports her dad (François Damiens) as he bids to become the town’s mayor. Paula’s parents are farmers who live just outside a small town, and her presence at home is crucial to the family in terms of their ability to communicate with the wider community, most of whom do not understand sign language, as you’d expect. It transpires that the teenager’s a fine singer with untapped talent, who may be able to win a scholarship to an elite Parisian music school, but inevitably her parents and brother do not want her to leave as it will potentially isolate them (or at the very least make life harder). Does she follow her dream or stay to help the family, and further a budding romance with the mop-headed young lad and fellow chorister she has fancied throughout the school year? The film is occasionally funny, and pokes fun at typical reactions to deaf people during a couple of scenes (the incumbent mayor repeatedly uses the term ‘handicapped’ while talking to the Béliers, while one woman buying cheese from the family in a market asks what’s wrong with the mother (Karin Viard) when she doesn’t respond to a question, to which Paula sarcastically replies ‘she likes to smile, I like to talk’). There’s a permanent positivity and palpable sense of warmth to the film that makes it easy to like and – I can only presume – easy to dislike, too. I couldn’t detect anything truly special about it – despite the financial success and the awards it has received – but I can’t quite bring myself to write anything negative either, except that it’s frustrating when some of the sign language hasn’t been subtitled (which I think is a mistake by the captioners, as opposed to a deliberate stylistic choice).
Directed by: Éric Lartigau.
Written by: Victoria Bedos, Stanislas Carré de Malberg, Thomas Bidegain, Éric Lartigau.
Starring: Louane Emera, Karin Viard, François Damiens, Éric Elmosnino, Roxane Duran, Ilian Bergala, Luca Gelberg.
Cinematography: Romain Winding.
Editing: Jennifer Augé.
Music: Evgueni Galperine, Sacha Galperine.
Running Time: 103 minutes.