While well-acted and well-scripted, Les Nôtres doesn’t offer any resolution to its weighty, complex and uncomfortable themes that might polarise audiences.
There’s an expectation when watching a film, regardless of its plot or genre or length, that it will wrap itself up neatly by the time the credits roll. That it will provide the answers, happy ending and neat summation that reality so often denies us. And so, as Les Nôtres’ screen fades to black with no concrete resolution to the central ‘mystery’, it feels a bit discomfiting. Which, one might suspect, is exactly what director Jeanne Leblanc was aiming for.
Magaline Jodoin (Émilie Bierre), a normal, popular, 13-year-old high school student, suddenly collapses during a dance rehearsal and is rushed to hospital. There, to the shock of her mother Isabelle (Marianne Farley), it’s revealed that she is pregnant. Magaline refuses to reveal the identity of the father, and as secrets are revealed and the news spreads, locals reel at the disruption of their seemingly ‘idyllic’ community.
Les Nôtres touches on some pretty heavy, complex themes, but makes a point of not exploring them in any particular depth. The crux of the film is the exploration of how an event as shocking as this can reverberate through the small, tight-knit community in Sainte-Adeline, Quebec, Canada. Of how the consequences of one secret can permeate and cause cracks in a societal façade. It’s uncomfortable to watch, as Magaline’s steadfast refusal to name the father of her unborn child creates a tangled web of suspicion and confusion, but it’s a situation that, by its very nature, is deemed uncomfortable to discuss.
Leblanc’s film doesn’t shy away from that. Instead, it invites frustration with its compelling script – co-written by Leblanc and one of the film’s supporting cast, Judith Baribeau – and refusal to provide a ‘happy-ending’ resolution. Some audiences might not see past that initial frustration, as the film is really adept at building tension without offering any release, and some might find the nature of some of the themes disturbing and feel irritation that there isn’t consequences for some of the film’s more repugnant plot threads. But Les Nôtres does exactly what it set out to do: tell a story, imbued in realism, that doesn’t offer an easy ‘out’.
Émilie Bierre, the young actress in the central role, is fantastic as Magaline. It’s an insulated performance that perfectly encapsulates the way in which teenagers revert inwards, and she’s magnetic on screen from start to finish. Leblanc, along with cinematographer Tobie Marier Robitaille, aren’t afraid to linger on Bierre and capture every minute detail of her performance that conveys the isolation, fear and confusion as Magaline’s situation spirals. There’s a maturity to Bierre’s performance that, ironically, emphasises just how young Magaline is, and the sheer weight of having to deal with something as adult as having a baby is on someone who’s barely a teenager.
Surrounding Bierre is an excellent supporting cast, that includes Marianne Farley as Magaline’s mother, at her wits end in raising two children as a widow; co-writer Judith Baribeau as their neighbour and the adoptive mother of Magaline’s friend Manu, and Paul Doucet as the Mayor of Sainte-Adeline, whose relationship with Isabelle and Magaline is one of the film’s darker elements. Their performances highlight the control Leblanc has over the manner in which the story is told; there’s little exposition and a lot of the details and history are left out, and it’s up to the audience to fill in the blanks from what is physically there on screen.
Les Nôtres is a film that feels very deliberate. It refuses to wrap itself up in a neat bow by the conclusion, and this may well polarise audiences. But the film itself is an encapsulation of a social-realist drama that confronts discomforting issues, even if the decision not to fully explore them might feel unsatisfactory to some, and is a well-acted, well-scripted slice of thriller cinema.
Les Nôtres is now available to watch on digital and on demand.