Other Peoples’ Children

Original title or aka: Les Enfants Des Autres

Director: Rebecca Zlotowski
Starring: Virginie Efira, Roschdy Zem, Chiara Mastroianni and Callie Ferreira-Goncalves

Runtime: 104 mins. Reviewed in Jul 2023
Reviewer: Peter W Sheehan
| JustWatch |
Rating notes: Mature themes, sex scenes, nudity, drug use and coarse language

This French, subtitled film tells the story of a middle-aged teacher, who falls in love with a single man who has a 4-year-old daughter, to whom she becomes very attached. The desire for a family of her own becomes strong.

Rachel (Efira) – a childless, middle-aged, high school teacher – lives and works in the city of Paris, and begins a new relationship with Ali (Zem), a single father of 4-year-old Leila (Ferreira-Goncalves). Rachel meets Ali in her guitar class and mutually are instantly attracted. Rachel has a full life, and is emotionally satisfied as a dedicated teacher, but welcomes the love she finds. Ali is hesitant to introduce Leila to Rachel, but does so as his attachment to Rachel increases; as Rachel bonds romantically to Ali, her relationship to Leila strengthens. When Ali and Rachel openly declare their love for each other, Rachel comes to love Leila, as if Leila was her own child.

Conflict takes place between Rachel and Leila’s birth mother, Alice (Mastroianni), who is divorced from Ali, but also a carer for Leila. Rachel knows that age has become a problem for her, and she is unhappy that she is a step-mother to someone else’s child. The film focuses very much on Rachel’s conflicts as she experiences them. The film is sensitive to a range of adult problems and emotions regarding parental responsibilities. The intensity of Rachel’s bonding to Leila is strong, but the bonding between her and Leila also has moments of fragility.

The film canvasses broad themes. It deals with relationship difficulties, conflicts associated with motherhood, and issues related to fertility, abortion and mortality. Director, Zlotowski avoids excessive emphasis on the symbols of modern womanhood, but leaves it to viewers to surmise and appreciate what her characters think, believe, and feel in a contemporary world. Rachel realises that she doesn’t have a lot of time left to be a birth-mother and such concerns pull the film well away from being one that is only about romantic involvement.

The film sensitively establishes the messiness of life and the fragility of human attachments, and Efira’s impressive naturalism cements what we, the viewers, think.

The movie recognises the subtleties of complex human bonding. For example, Leila tells her father that she wants Rachel to go away, but Leila is nevertheless drawing pictures with herself, Ali, and Rachel in them together. The film has an epilogue that insightfully and dramatically explores another meaning for the film’s title – it makes a sudden turn around that looks to reject what seems to be happening, but the epilogue positively affirms what ‘dedicated teachers’ do and who they are: they are people who genuinely care for ‘Other Peoples’ Children’. The Epilogue intriguingly gives the film’s title a different meaning, which is highly significant.

This film is inspired by the director’s personal life experiences. It is well written, and directed with honesty and sincerity, and its tensions play out in the complexity of human love attachments: Joy, love, grief, and sadness mingle together, and the movie poignantly explores gender-specific experiences of life and love.

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