A reminder to parents who might consider checking out the suspenseful Canadian drama “Les Notres” in a cinema. It’s rude to throw things at the screen, and not great manners to shout at it. But variations of “Oh COME on!” are a perfectly understandable response to the outrage depicted in Jeanne Leblanc’s film.
A girl (Emilie Bierre) who lost her father in a tragic accident years before is pregnant. Her harried and often furious widowed-mother (Marianne Farley) is pleading and demanding answers. Magalie snaps at her to “calm down” (in French with English subtitles).
“You don’t get to TELL me to ‘calm down,’” mother Isabelle barks. But that’s where she leaves it. “I don’t want to talk about it” and “I don’t KNOW” who the father is and “Leave me ALONE” and Magalie stomps off to check in on her social media and swap messages with the babydaddy.
Isabelle just…takes it. And Mags? She is thirteen years old.
Not sure how they do things in Quebec, but here in America we take AWAY cell phones over such offenses. Well, we, we ASK for them to be handed over, at least.
“Les Notres” explores the circle of suspicion, the small town of Saint Adeline’s feeble attempts at social shaming and lets us see, as babydaddy puts it, “The situation is a little complicated, you know?”
There’s a social worker wanting to know “Did someone hurt you?” Isabelle is outraged at the question. The Central American teen the next door neighbors adopted seems sweet on Mags. That puts Isabelle’s close friendship with the ever-supportive Chantal (Judith Baribeau, who co-wrote the script).
As we’re figure out who did what and how it happened, we can’t help but lean into “Les Notres,” waiting for the mushroom cloud explosion whose shock waves could ripple from house to house, class to class, if and when this ugly secret gets out.
Leblanc wisely focuses on the three women at the heart of the story, and builds suspense in as to which one will give away the game or which one will figure out the mystery, and how.
A good thriller will make you impatient for that resolution, and Leblanc, a veteran second-unit director (“On the Road,” “X-Men Apocalypse”) making her second feature (“Isla Blanca” was the first) keeps us impatient.
Hell, she all but invites us to hurl popcorn and deprecations at the screen. We’re seeing some pretty lax, bend-over-backwards parenting here. And no, the fact Mags’ daddy died doesn’t explain why mom doesn’t rein this wayward barely-a-teen in. At all.
Chantal’s kid-gloves handling of her adoptive son (Léon Diconca Pelletier) is similarly maddening. The fact that he’s the target of taunting and racist abuse at school over this just compounds his misery and makes his mother’s passivity that much more vexing.
But the kids, Bierre and Pelletier, make this scenario come off. Bierre is the very picture of the hard-to-handle, sullen teen — still every bit the child, stuck in a situation that she is entirely too young to have much of any responsibility for. The power imbalance is alarming, and suggestions she’s just now learning about “consequences,” as one of the mothers offers, can seem laughable. She’s lost, but she’s done some of the math, too. Lives will be disrupted far and wide if she does any version of “the right thing.”
It’s not a script that stands up to a lot of scrutiny. What, nobody thinks to serve up a prenatal DNA test?
Give Leblanc credit, though. Any time you make a movie with well-played characters who compel the audience to want to shout at the screen, you’ve accomplished something.
MPA Rating: unrated, explicit sex, sexual situations involving an underage girl
Cast: Emilie Bierre, Marianne Farley, Judith Baribeau
Credits: Directed by Jeanne Leblanc, script by Judith Baribeau, Jeanne Leblanc. An Oscilloscope Labs release.
Running time: 1:43