Highlighting one girl’s struggle to manage life as the only hearing member of her deaf family, Eric Lartigau’s La Famille Bélier is riddled with clichés.
Same Old Songby Kendra Kronenbourg
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
Following in the footsteps of Australian Idol winner Jessica Mauboy who took her soulful singing to the silver screen in Wayne Blair’s The Sapphires and Jennifer Hudson, who leapt from reality TV star to Hollywood star in Dreamgirls, there’s no doubt Louane Emera’s brilliant performance make her the outstanding star of this ensemble. Known to French audiences as a former contestant of The Voice, she impresses with both her voice and natural charisma. And she’s ably supported by Michel Sardou, who her music teacher considers to be the Mozart of French chanson, performing his song Je Vole (I Am Flying) in a grand finale at her audition at Radio France. But is there any more to La Famille Bélier than a showcase for the showgirl?
Paula Beliér (Louane Emera) seems like any other teenage girl – gossiping about cute boys with her best friend while manoeuvring her way through high school. But unlike other teenagers, she also manages the family business – the only link between her deaf family and the hearing world. Calling the bank on her way to school, selling cheese at the market, and translating for her parents are part of Paula’s daily chores. But when she joins the school choir to be close to cute boy Gabriel, Paula discovers a hidden talent – her voice. Her frustrated music teacher, Monsieur Thomasson (Eric Elmosnino), who longs to leave Lassay behind (which he compares to the Gobi Desert), encourages Paula to sing a duet with Gabriel and audition at the prestigious Radio France, Paris. But while Paula is dreaming of music and fame, her father Rodolphe (François Damiens) has a dream of his own – running for mayor. And amidst the turmoil, not wanting to disappoint her parents, Paula keeps quiet about her own plans and dreams. At least for a while…
With a promising mix of ingredients, including a healthy dollop of charismatic leading lady chanson, a dose of coming of age tribulations, a pinch of comedy and seasoned with some Gallic romance, Eric Lartigau’s intended feel-good comedy is a soufflé that fails to rise. And while La Famille Bélier could have been a serious attempt at raising awareness about the difficulties and challenges a deaf family like the Béliers face, Lartigau instead delivers something resembling a slapstick Louis de Funés film, complete with obscene jokes and constant confusion of handicap and ethnicity – “Obama got elected president, so I can be mayor!” In fact, the Bélier parents are not only portrayed as handicapped but are also clearly neurotic and self-absorbed, discussing their love life during a visit to the gynaecologist, while daughter Paula is forced to translate everything. Although the lowest point of the film comes when Paula discovers her first period, and mother Gigi (Karin Viard) proudly presents her blood stained trousers to the rest of the family – including Gabriel – who just came by to rehearse.
After spending the first half of the film focused on comedy, the second half of La Famille Bélier angles towards tragedy. But it’s a little too late after all this mockery. And a little too manipulative, as Lartigau tries to illustrate the perspective of the Bélier parents while attending Paula’s school concert – completely disconnected from the rest of the audience and ultimately their own daughter. But it’s a telling moment that reveals an unfortunate truth, as this intended crowd pleaser is likely, outside the French-speaking world, to fall on deaf ears.
La Famille Bélier is released on 11th September 2015 in the UK