Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Eric Lartigau
Stars: Karin Viard, Francoise Damiens, Loune Emera, Eric Elmosnino, Luca Gelberg, Ilian Bergala, Roxane Duran, Stephen Wojtowicz.
This warm, crowd pleasing, feel good French comedy was one of the highest grossing films at the French box office in 2015, and it’s easy to see why. The story is both moving, poignant and uplifting, and the film itself is populated with a number of quirky but endearing characters. Having screened at the Alliance Francaise French Film Festival earlier in the year, The Belier Family is loaded with most of those crowd pleasing elements that audiences have come to expect from those French comedies that screen here in Australia outside the festival circuit.
The Belier family are a tight knit and loving family of hard working dairy farmers in rural France who sell their cheeses at a local market. Mother Gigi (Karin Viard) and father Rodolphe (Francois Damiens, from OSS 117: Nest Of Spies, etc)) are both deaf, as is their son Quentin (Luca Gelberg). Their 16 year old daughter Paula (played by newcomer Louane Emera, who was a runner-up on the French version of The Voice) can hear and talk and acts as a translator for the family. This leads to some awkward moments, especially in one scene where she has to translate a fairly frank sex talk between her parents and the family doctor. Life in the farmhouse is often chaotic, especially at meal times.
But Paula’s situation is about to change drastically. At school she impulsively enrols in the choir to get close to Gabriel (played by another newcomer in Ilian Bergala), the handsome new boy in school. The music teacher (Eric Elmosnino, from Skylab, War Of The Buttons, etc) discovers Paula’s talent and encourages her to audition for a prestigious music school in Paris. Initially her parents react badly to this news. Paula will be forced to make a decision that will deeply affect her family – can she put her family ahead of her own future or should she accept this opportunity which will mean leaving the family to fend for itself.
In her first film role, Emera is superb and delivers a wonderfully rounded and nuanced performance as the initially awkward Paula who grows in confidence as the film unfolds. The film is a showcase for Emera, who particularly shines in those scenes where she is allowed to sing and show off her impressive voice. She brings plenty of infectious energy to her performance, and she is the glue that holds the film together.
Gigi is an annoying and exasperating character and Viard plays her to the hilt with a wonderfully vibrant performance that often resorts to caricature. Viard and Damiers previously played a bickering couple in Dany Boon’s comedy Nothing To Declare, and they establish a wonderful rapport and chemistry as the exuberant and uninhibited parents here. Even more importantly though is they way in which they manage to convey a range of emotions and ideas without the use of conventional dialogue, having to rely on gestures and facial expressions. Elmosnino is also very funny as the flamboyant, demanding and frustrated music teacher. Of the cast, only Gelberg is actually deaf in reality, and his performance is both funny and sympathetic.
The Belier Family is a broadly appealing comedy that is grounded in reality as it paints a credible and realistic picture of the daily hardships faced by deaf people in contemporary society. The film is littered with some surprisingly bawdy moments as well as moments of slapstick humour. The scene when Gabriel arrives at the Belier’s house to rehearse a duet with Paula without realising that the rest of the family is deaf provides some chuckles.
The Belier Family is the first feature film written by the team of Stanislas Carre de Marlberg and Victoria Bedos (the tv series Paris 16eme) and it is filled with warmth and empathy for the family who remain remarkably upbeat despite their obvious handicap. The script is spiced with a couple of subplots – including one in which Paula’s father decides to run for mayor against the pompous, patronising incumbent – which add little to the film overall but offer an amusing diversion.
Director Eric Lartigau (I Do, etc) keeps things moving along at a nice pace as the film moves towards an emotionally satisfying and rousing climax. At one stage Lartigau shows a music performance without the sound, to give the audience an opportunity to experience what life must be life for the deaf.
The central narrative deal with themes of adolescence, dysfunctional family relationships, first romance, independence and is a little cliched and predictable, and even manipulative at times. But The Belier Family is certainly a crowd pleasing comedy that deserves to be seen – especially before Hollywood gets their hands on it for an inevitable remake.