Is a woman without children living a child-free or a childless life? That’s the existential question at the heart of French filmmaker Rebecca Zlotowski’s thoughtful dramedy about a fortysomething teacher who develops an attachment to her boyfriend’s daughter.
On the surface, Rachel (Virginie Efira) seems to live a contented life. She has a good relationship with her students, her ex-boyfriend, and her father and younger sister, with whom she spends Jewish holidays. Then she meets handsome car designer, and fellow guitar player, Ali (Roschdy Zem). Their attraction is palpable; from their heady smiles to the close-ups of hands itching to touch – but this is a film staunchly told through Rachel’s perspective.
We see her desire play out in two ways: as a romantic partner luxuriating in the love and passion quickly developing with a man she sees a future with; and as a woman whose maternal affections have been awakened by his young daughter Leïla (Callie Ferreira-Goncalves).
The longer Rachel spends with this gorgeous young girl, and the more Ali invites her to be a part of Leïla’s daily routine, the more apparent her tentative status as a caregiver is. Leïla’s mother Alice (Chiara Mastroianni) is still in the picture and while their interactions are mature and empathetic, Rachel must grapple with the fact that she may always be the third wheel in this family. Efira showcases this internal conflict with compassion, assuredness and believability to keep you invested in her journey of introspection.
Virginie Efira brings compassion and believability to a woman facing complex choices
We feel the pain Rachel feels when confronted with the innocent cruelty of Leïla’s demands for her mother; the frustration at her colleagues ready to give up on a problem student; and the bittersweet joy of learning of her sister’s pregnancy. Rachel’s life becomes wrapped up in other people’s children as the story peels back the personal, pensive layers of why Rachel has not had a child herself.
Zlotowski smartly articulates the complex choices modern women are faced when it comes to motherhood, step-parenting and relationships. The ending may well be sad but it’s no less empowering.
In UK cinemas and on PVOD Mar 17.