In Billie Eilish’s recent single, ‘Your Power,’ she says the words, “I thought that I was special/you made me feel/like it was my fault, you were the devil/lost your appeal.”It’s a song that confronts aspects of power and how people can abuse it in different ways. Eilish leaves what mode of power up to interpretation, but one can view it through the lens of older men and younger women. A prevalent issue that unfortunately manifests itself in various ways. When director Jeanne Leblanc introduces us to 13-year-old Magalie (Emilie Bierre), it’s a haunting portrait of her, draped in covers on a side of a bed with a bareback – her face locked into the camera as if something has gone wrong.
Magalie has a secret; she’s pregnant. Once we find out, it’s a lot farther along than some would initially think. Her mother, Isabelle (Marianne Farley) goes into a panic. At first, it’s disbelief and self-blame. Then, immediately, it goes to wondering who the father is. An answer that Magalie will not provide to her, and one that has more sinister origins. ‘Les Notres‘ (or ‘Our Own’) takes place in a small Quebec town named Saint Adeline. White picket fences, small little league games, and clean streets are synonymous with its clean aesthetic. Leblanc illustrates that suburbia withholds rot within the beauty. A single decision can hold uncultured diatribes and generational prejudices.
At the beginning of the film, the audience learns that there was a factory accident that claimed the life of Magalie’s father. Much of the camerawork focuses on Magalie’s stare or, sometimes, takes her cinematic viewpoint. As the film goes on, she becomes more disillusioned as things happen to her. Her eyes become glassy in a metaphorical sense. The puzzle of whom the father of Magalie’s child is gets shown rather quickly. Leblanc lets the audience in on the unnerving secret, and the characters are left to their own bewilderment about the origin.
Next door, there’s another family comprising the mayor of the town, Jean-Marc (Paul Doucet), his wife, Chantal (Judith Baribeau), and their foster child, Manu (Léon Diconca Pelletier). Manu, who is a budding soccer star, is friends with Magalie. Because of his proximity, when her pregnancy is revealed, Manu becomes under suspicion immediately. What begins as a concern turns ugly because of his Mexican heritage. Chantal tries to see the best in everything, to a fault. Thus, allows Jean-Marc to operate in a very deviant way about something. The portrait of a ‘perfect’ family soon has cracks in the picture frame.
Magalie’s pregnancy becomes an undoing of Saint Adeline. Or rather, just uncovers the vitriol that already exists under the surface. Magalie’s classmates become very cruel to her. The parents in the town give her a cold shoulder and treat her as if she bores a scarlet letter. The racism intensifies against Manu, rather in snide comments from older residents to Chantal directly. Even from Isabelle herself – she automatically points to Manu and tops it off with a slur. Leblanc chooses to gently pull the threads in the clothing. Which becomes unnerving, seeing how a community can form a quick opinion without facts. Magalie becomes sick at dance practice one day and sympathy is shown to her. However, the classmates that she just was friends with an act ago view her as dirty.
As the principle character, Magalie’s storyline can be a double-edged sword. Every character falls within her orbit as reveals important topics such as mass shaming, reproductive autonomy prejudice, and grooming. Once the film reveals her pregnancy, it feels as though that’s all there is to her. While she embraces her upcoming newborn because it seems like all she has, Les Nôtres doesn’t reveal much about Magalie, the person. There is a potential to show how losing her father affects her. Especially because another parental figure could serve as a protector. Everything revolves around her circumstances after it’s shown she’s with a growing child.
The bigger question is that of purity and womanhood. Saint Adeline is just a small metaphorical sample of the unfair attitude towards young women and pregnancy. When Emilie Bierre gets to convey frustration and worry, it’s effective and haunting. Magalie is left on an island with nobody to relate to. Even if her mother tries, it’s also met with conjecture. Although the soap opera-esque revelation of the father almost undercuts the premise, there are questions that will linger with the audience even after the credits roll. Les Nôtres bathes itself in things unsaid, a group of people bound by menial thinking, and a teenage girl whose suffocated by all of it.
Photo Credit: Oscilloscope