The Belier Family – fab feel-good French story

The French film, The Belier Family (La Famille Bélier) by director Eric Lartigau makes you think deeply about the disadvantages of being deaf – and it makes you cry – but mostly it makes you laugh. No wonder La Famille Bélier  was France’s number One Film of the Year. Because the feel-good story about a French dairy-farming family where everyone is deaf except dutiful sixteen-year-old Paula, drips with the delights and idiosyncrasies of French culture.  Village life, local food markets, uninhibited sexuality  and how French students must choose a cultural pursuit, create a wonderful backdrop for Paula’s emergence as a budding chanteuse.

And to endorse this magic mix La Famille Bélier has been nominated  for nine French Oscars including best film, actor, actress and screenplay.  Newcomer actress, Louane Emera, who plays Paula, won the 2015 Cesar award for Best New Actress and the 2015 Lumier Award for Best Actress.  Renowned French actors Francois Damiens and Karin Viard are a formidable team capturing every French couple’s dream – a hot sexy marriage. All that passion portrayed without a word being spoken. However, Paula’s younger brother, Quentin,  (Luca Gelberg) is the only deaf member of the cast.   Adding a huge dose of Gallic eccentricity is Eric Elmosnino (who played Gainsbough) as the bored French music teacher who wrings his hands at yet another year of “this choir of goats”. Instead, he discovers Paula’s extraordinary voice when she joins the choir.  Not that she had any deep desire to be a singer initially, she was merely following a cute adolescent boy named Gabriel (Ilan Bergala) who had joined the school choir.

The charm of the film is that Paula is a natural, loveable character living a normal life within a family with disabilities and torn between love of family and desire for independence. Whose wonderful voice reflects the real-life fact that she was runner-up to the French equivalent of The Voice.  Her emotive rendition of Michel Sardou’s Je Vole would be one of the many reasons she picked up a French Cesar.

Paula has a heavy life of  farm labours, helping parents run the local market’s cheese stall and acting interpreter for the three deaf members of her close-knit family. After morning milking, it’s cycling and busing to school daily, where the awkwardness of teenage crushes juxtapose with rampant teenage sexual trysts. However, the choir master sees Paula’s gift as a ticket out of his boring rural life and encourages her to apply for a Radio School scholarship in Paris, far from the rural cheese-making of her parents. As Paula warms to the idea of a chance at stardom in Paris, her dream becomes the worst nightmare for her deaf parents. Gigi’s desperate bid to keep her on the farm reflects that universal parental problem – fear of the empty nest – exacerbated by their reliance on her ability to hear and speak.

Adding a slice of political village life to the plot, Papa Belier decides to run against the pompous council mayor with the unlikely motto of “I hear ya” and while this is an undeveloped thread, mayoral elections are critical events in French village life.  There are many hilarious moments, when Paula sits between her parents as the doctor explains why curing her mother’s “burning” thrush requires a ban on sex for three weeks. “My crotch is on fire,’’  Gigi had complained in sign language. While a tad crass, the episode exposes the parents’ reliance on their daughter.

The use of sign-language, the noisy clanging of kitchen utensils which only Paula can hear at breakfast and the eerie silence when Paula sings to her parents at the audition so that the audience experiences what it’s like for the deaf parents who can’t hear their gifted child – add depth and feeling.

The film won  “most popular film’’ at this year’s French Film Festival in Adelaide and it will have a general release at Palace Cinema on Boxing Day – December 26, in time to appeal to families on holiday.

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1 Comment to “The Belier Family – fab feel-good French story”

  1. By Margo Poirier, 07/12/2016 @ 8:12 pm

    A fabulous film indeed. Many tears shed. I encouraged my small French conversation class to go and see it and am hoping to track down the DVD.
    Your From France with Love crossed my desk today and I am looking forward to reading it. I too was married to a Frenchman, from Lyon (now in that great cuisine in the sky). He is still much missed for hundreds of reasons.
    I wish you continued success ….Margo

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