Maybe it is because so much misery exists in the world that feel-good movies represent a difficult proposition. Too many feel-good movies try and fail, lacking the subtlety to distinguish between honing in on the sweeter aspects of life and creating a pure deception. In other words, even the most light-hearted of films is a precarious balancing act between extremities. The Bélier Family is a film that balances just that, striking beautifully between reality and feel-good contrivance.
A beautiful portrait of a young girl, The Bélier Family tells of Paula (Louane Emera), coming of age and caught between the pursuits of emerging adulthood and devotion to her all-deaf family: Gigi (Karin Viard), her domineering mother; Rodolphe (François Damiens), her cheese-making father; and Quentin (Luca Gelberg), her younger, hornier brother.
Set in rural France, the Béliers are running a cheese farm when Gigi contracts a rapidly spreading vaginal fungus, Rodolphe decides to run for town mayor, and Paula is inadvertently selected for the school-choir, discovering she has a stunning soprano singing voice. Encouraged by her music teacher, Fabien (Eric Elmosnino), Paula takes lessons to hone her gift and is eventually urged to audition for candidacy in a prestigious Parisian music college some five hours away. Trying to convince her parents, who are unable to ever hear music, proves difficult, and Paula finds herself caught between familial loyalty and the pursuit of her own dreams.
The Bélier Family is a film about the charisma of difference, the abjectness of miscommunication, and the bittersweet nature of both growing up and letting go of the people and places we love. While these things are ordinary enough, The Bélier Family does the commonplace extremely well, in both a comedic and dramatic sense.
Emera, a semi-finalist on France’s The Voice who does her own singing here, is a revelation, exceeding her years with a deep empathetic sense that does not exclude the adolescent petulance of her character’s age.
That three of the film’s main characters are deaf/mute also means that a large degree of physical acting is involved. Damiens is delightful; Gelberg, who is actually deaf, is excellent as Paula’s brother; though it is Viard’s larger-than-life matriarch who steals every scene she is in. As Gigi, Viard’s mixture of warmth, eccentricity and possessiveness is a joy to watch.
The Bélier Family is extremely funny and moving on a deeper, more poignant level. It may not reinvent the wheel, but it doesn’t have to, and nor does it try to. It is a fête of simpler moments among ordinary people. To be completely charming is its raison d’être, which is plenty enough: people need to feel good sometimes.
THE REEL SCORE: 8/10