GFF2023 Review: Other People’s Children

Year: 2023

Runtime: 104 minutes

Director: Rebecca Zlotowski

Writer: Rebecca Zlotowski

Stars: Virginie Efira, Roschdy Zem, Chiara Matsroianni, Callie Ferreira-Goncalves

By Calum Cooper

Throughout her career, Rebecca Zlotowski has always seemed keen on exploring the idiosyncrasies that make one’s identity or search for it. Her newest film, “Other People’s Children” (2023), carries on her exploration magnificently. It has a lot more in common with Zlotowski’s films than just this initial starting point – namely the strong acting – but the intimacy that Zlotowski brings to this film is a triumph in and of itself.

Rachel (Virginie Efira) is a single 40-year-old teacher. Although she has an active social life and is close with her family – especially with her sister – she longs to be a mother. She starts a new relationship with the dashing Ali (Roschdy Zem), who has a four year old daughter Leila (Callie Ferreira-Goncalves). As Rachel and Ali’s relationship blossoms, Rachel eventually starts looking after Leila too. Naturally she begins to love Leila as if she is her own, but this creates a conflict in Rachel’s heart, as her growing love for Leila wrestles with the desire to have a child of her own – a possibility that she knows is fading with time.

There is a refreshing originality to “Other People’s Children” that makes it appealing from the word go. Too many films to count have explored motherhood, but the relationship between a child and the partner of a parent is one seldom touched upon. The fact that this budding dynamic is linked directly to Rachel’s own deep wishes to mother a child of her own makes the connection especially captivating. There are undoubtedly grey areas, but the intrinsic empathy leaps off the screen to dazzling effect.

Zlotowski’s direction and script both capture the nuances, and even the contradictions, that make people who they are. Rachel dislikes the notion that womanhood is defined by domestic labels such as motherhood. Her clear commitment to her job and its principles – particularly with how hard she fights for one student in particular, Dylan (Victor Lefebvre) – reveal her staunch belief in this. Yet that doesn’t stop her wanting to be a mother. Even though she views Leila as an answer to her desires, she knows that she can never truly replace Leila’s biological mother Alice (Chiara Mastroianni), who is still very much a part of Leila’s life. The fact that she fears menopause, and how close that possibility seems to be getting, adds urgency to the setup. Much like another film playing at Glasgow Film Festival – “My Sailor, My Love” (2023) – this is a narrative in which there are no typical antagonists; just fallible people searching for answers.

“Other People’s Children” is a real gem of a film with its engaging characters, stellar performances, and marvellous affinity for the intricacies of life.”

Longing is the word that seems most appropriate to apply to “Other People’s Children”. Through George Lechaptois’s cinematography – composed of a mix of intense close ups and sweeping long takes – the anxiety and repressed wants hidden within each character comes clearly into focus. Meanwhile, the music by Robin Coudert (credited with his stage name ROB) utilises pianos and string instruments to convey both the overt romanticism of Rachel’s newfound connections with Ali and Leila, and the internal melancholy with recognising the unspoken boundaries that are in place between them all. There is genuine humanity woven into the very core of the craftsmanship.

Topping it all off are some really great performances from this cast, all of whom recognise the human complications of the premise and successfully play to them. Virginie Efira is miraculous. She wonderfully captures the inconsistencies that make Rachel such a profound character, grounding her with steadfast convictions but deep insecurity. Zem and Mastroianni also add layers of delicacy to the story as these groups of people try to navigate each other’s lives with mixed results. The final outcome is a film rich with humour and heartache, anchored by blistering themes of individuality and purpose.

“Other People’s Children” would make a compelling companion piece with Mia Hansen-Love’s “One Fine Morning” (2022), another French film which is currently playing at Glasgow Film Festival. Not only are there similarities between their choices of protagonist, but both radiate an earnest belief in the best of people, whatever their flaws. “Other People’s Children” is a real gem of a film with its engaging characters, stellar performances, and marvellous affinity for the intricacies of life. Even with all the messiness that comes with human relations, the sheer warmness that the film permeates is enough of a reason to seek it out. It really is a delight.


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