“I am not fleeing, I'm flying. Understand well, I'm flying”
There are times when a film can hit close to home making it hard to review objectively because it has spoken to you in a very personal manner. That is the case with Eric Lartigau’s French film, La Famille Belier, which centers on a family who are all deaf and mute except for their adolescent daughter who has become an important part of their life since she serves as their translator to the outside world. The family owns a farm and sells cheese at the local market. Despite of their disabilities, Gigi (Karin Viard) and Rodolphe (Francois Damiens), are very cheerful and caring parents. Their daughter, Paula (Louane Emera), is a talented singer, but of course her parents don’t understand what music means to people. When her choir director discovers her potential, he asks her to participate in an entrance exam for the Maitrise de Radio France, an elite school for musicians in Paris. This puts Paula in a very difficult position because she knows how much she is needed by her family, but she also realizes that this a great opportunity for her to do what she loves. She also has a smaller brother named Quentin (Luca Gelberg) with the same disabilities. The film connected with me on a personal level because my father had a stroke five years ago and hasn’t been able to speak since. He understands everything and communicates through signs and expressions, but he can’t speak. The right side of his body was affected as well and he has trouble moving his leg and has no movement in his arm. I’ve been his therapist and seen his improvements from day one. He’s also been very upbeat, cheerful and full of faith with regards to his disability. I connected with Paula’s character because I understood the sacrifice she makes everyday for her family, although I’m in no way talented with my singing. The reason I’m writing all this is because it is hard to review a film that touches you in such a personal way. The film doesn’t have any brilliant technical aspects to it, the story is melodramatic and cliched, the performances are sometimes over the top (but comedic nonetheless) and the music sometimes can play a key role into manipulating the mood of the audience. These are aspects of films that I usually criticize, but in this film none of that mattered because it was an emotional roller coaster for me personally. I was entertained from the very beginning and enjoyed the entire film despite its flaws.
The lead role is played by Louane Emera who has a beautiful voice without a doubt. She was actually a participant in the French reality TV show, The Voice. This is her first film, but she really delivers a natural and touching performance. Speaking of reality shows, the film actually feels like one at times. You know how they usually try to engage the audience by introducing a participant who had a troubled past and is overcoming the obstacles to achieve his or her dreams. That is kind of what they do here with the character of Paula, they are using her difficult life story to touch the audience and make us care for her. I didn’t have a problem with that however because it worked here. It manages to be funny and sad at the same time and it balances out those moments throughout the entire film. There are many subplots that weren’t developed and should’ve been left out, but I think they were included mostly for comedic purposes and to take away our attention from the main theme of the film. Take for instance the moment where Rodolphe decides that he is going to run for mayor. There are a few funny moments but the film doesn’t go anywhere with that. There is also a subplot revolving around Quentin’s relationship with one of Paula’s best friends, but that also ends up going nowhere. Those subplots were included as a way to mix things up a bit and fool the audience as to which way the film was heading, because in the end it is a bit all too predictable and cliched. However, the music in this film works extremely well and I ended up caring for these characters and the decisions they had to make. Karin Viard and Francois Damiens had great chemistry together and provided most of the comedy in the film. Viard goes a bit overboard with her exaggerated stagey performance, but it worked. La Famille Belier is a very charming feel-good movie full of funny and sincerely touching moments.