Elise and Didier fall in love at first sight, in spite of their differences. He talks, she listens. He’s a romantic atheist, she’s a religious realist. When their daughter becomes seriously ill, their love is put on trial.
Belgium’s nomination for Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars is an utterly heartbreaking story and a fantastic film. It tells the story of a young couple, Didier and Elise, over the course of a 7 year period, falling in love and having a child who unfortunately succumbs to cancer, and the subsequent effect this has on their relationship. The film it really reminded me of was ‘Blue Valentine’, an excellent study of a relationship from the beginnings when everything is great to the bitterness and resentment that can arrive towards the end of the relationship. This format is played out with the film jumping backwards and forward through time, and the script is given extra impetus from the tragedy within. I found myself imagining how terrifying and horrible Didier and Elise’s situation would be, and this is skilfully shown in the breakdown of their marriage after Maybelle’s (their daughter) death. Both characters say things they probably don’t mean but this is an excellent portrayal of how tragic circumstances can fundamentally change people and their outlook on life.
There’s an element of the social aspect of cancer research that is explored towards the end of the film, with Didier’s vehement anger at big governments such as the US making decisions to veto critical research, and this comes to a head at one of the couple’s bands concerts, where Didier can barely contain his feelings anymore. This is another important aspect of the story, with the couple playing in a bluegrass band which forms a large part of their life, and works extremely well to emphasise the joy and happiness they felt when they first met each other, as well as the pain towards the end of the film. Ultimately, the film is about the human spirit, and it questions whether people can overcome adversity to continue with their lives, and this makes a very compelling argument that something as big as losing a daughter to cancer is unsurmountable. I felt incredibly moved and incredibly invested in these characters, and this is a wonderful, heartbreaking piece of cinema.
Directed By: Felix Van Groeningen
Starring: Johan Heldenbergh, Veerle Baetens and Nell Cattrysse