Our Children's opening scene does not augur well: a mother lies in a hospital bed in Belgium, pleading that her four children be buried in Morocco. A short time later, four small white coffins are shunted up a conveyor crane on to an aeroplane. No matter how much conjugal bliss the viewer is witness to in the next 40 minutes or so, it is clear this will end badly. Because very quickly we realise we have actually seen the end at the beginning, as it were.
So a shadow hovers over the relationship between Moroccan immigrant Mounir (Tahar Rahim) and his Belgian sweetheart, the schoolteacher Murielle (Émilie Dequenne). The couple marry, despite the tersely-expressed reservation of Mounir's Belgian benefactor, the kindly doctor André Pinget (Niels Arestrup).
André, in effect a surrogate father to Mounir, invites the newlyweds to live at his apartment. Clearly a wealthy physician, he is prepared to help them get a firm foothold in life, without in any way making them feel under a compliment. Not only does he invite Mounir and Murielle to live with him, but he gives Mounir a job, as secretary and assistant in his surgery.
The birth of their first child brings joy and pleasure to the couple and indeed to André, now effectively a grandfather. The sense of bliss and pleasure is skilfully handled by the actors, with a real sense of edgy verité. Three more daughters are born, but the apartment is clearly too small. Mounir and Murielle want to move, and they plan to live back in Morocco, at Murielle's suggestion.
Up until now, André has seemed almost preternaturally easy-going and non-interventionist in his affection for his adoptive son and his new wife. However, when Mounir tells him about the proposed move, André suddenly changes and tells the younger man that he is flinging all his generosity back in his face. The possessive, needy soul that the doctor is behind the genial mask becomes suddenly clear, although initial tensions are dispelled.
It is only a temporary respite. Murielle becomes pregnant with a forth child, the first boy in the family. Effectively the dependence that André unwittingly enforces consumes the couple, within the narrow confines of the claustrophobic apartment. What is subsequently enacted makes for one of the most painful scenarios that cinema can conjure - thankfully, much of the pain is down to the viewer’s imagination. Lafosse spares us the worst, yet he apparently finds it impossible to watch the movie himself.
Suffice to say that the original title - À Perdre la Raison – reveals far more about the story than the rather bland Our Children. The film is based on real-life events that took place in 2007 involving a marriage between a Moroccan man and a Belgian woman, with an element of similar dependence on a wealthy benefactor. The difference is there were in fact five children in that real-life tragedy.