There’s complexity within the rather simplistic narrative of Other People’s Children, Rebecca Zlotowski‘s affecting French drama about a certain definition of motherhood.
Headlined by a captivating Virginie Efira, last seen dominating Paul Verhoeven’s controversial Benedetta, Other People’s Children focuses on her Rachel, a 40-year-old teacher – single and childless – whose blossoming relationship with Ali (Roschdy Zem) and his young daughter, Leila (Callie Ferreira-Goncalves), forces her to look at what it is to be a mother.
Though there’s a certain tragedy in how Zlotowski frames this relationship between Rachel and Leila – it’s made very clear that Rachel will never be Leila’s mother, despite their evident love for one another – the film itself never exacts any cruel intentions in doing so. As we witness the joy of Rachel and Ali enjoying a healthy sexual appetite for one another, and both he and Leila welcoming Rachel into the fray of their dynamic, Other People’s Children is never far away from reminding us of the reality for Rachel, that she’s a stepmother-figure at most and no matter how many passers-by comment on how Leila “looks like” her, it’ll never amount to anything more.
The fragility in which Rachel exists is heart-breaking, and in one foul swoop of Leila wanting her real mother, Zlotowski reminds us that Rachel is destined to lose this battle and be reminded of her place on a constant level. And in Leila asking for such a thing, the film never pins that as a negative. It adds another layer of love, anxiety and directionlessness to Rachel’s psyche, which, in turn, speaks to Efira’s captivation as a performer.
Even as all the characters here perform in a particularly selfish manner, Other People’s Children never has the air of a film that’s unpleasant to enjoy. Each character acts in a way that benefits them, and though it’s at the expense of other’s feelings, it’s never with malicious intent. It’s a very human way of looking at a delicate situation.
FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Other People’s Children is playing as part of this year’s Sundance Film Festival, taking place between January 19th and 29th, 2023, both in person and online. For more information head to the official Sundance page.