By Richard Ades
Thirteen-year-old Magalie (Emilie Bierre) is pregnant but hides the fact for as long as she can. When her condition is finally discovered, she resolutely refuses to talk about it, even with her mother. In particular, she refuses to reveal who the father is.
That’s the setup for Les Notres, a French-Canadian film set in the close-knit Quebec town of Sainte-Adeline. Eventually, Maglie’s reticence leads to the spread of dangerous suspicions and rumors fed by nationalistic prejudice.
Directed by Jeanne Leblanc from a script she co-wrote with Marianne Farley, Les Notres (English translation: Ours) dives into provocative and sometimes creepy territory. At its core, though, it’s the story of a girl who finds herself in trouble and is determined to deal with it on her own—even though she’s clearly not up to the task.
That makes it tempting to draw comparisons to 2020’s searing Never Rarely Sometimes Always, in which an older teen named Autumn is similarly close-mouthed about her unwanted pregnancy. In each case, we learn (or surmise) that the girl is keeping the truth to herself for reasons that seem vitally important to her, at least.
There’s one big difference between the two flicks, though. Autumn has the support of a helpful cousin, while Magalie is failed by one adult after another, including her caring but insufficiently strict mother (Marianne Farley). The result is a festering situation that hurts not only her but others around her.
From the viewer’s perspective, there’s another difference that’s even more important. Never Rarely Sometimes Always ends with a touching moment that perfectly crystalizes the gravity of Autumn’s situation. In contrast, Les Notres teases us with the possibility that things will come to a head, then hops months ahead to reveal a development that many will find inconsequential and profoundly unsatisfying.
One final comparison: Like Never Rarely star Sidney Flanigan, actor Bierre is adept at playing a girl who keeps her emotions to herself. Perhaps too adept, as at key moments we have no idea why she does what she does or how it affects her. But the real blame for this belongs to director/co-writer Leblanc, who seems more interested in advancing her cynical plot than in making Magalie a fully realized character.
Speaking of the plot, Les Notres does make important political points. It just feels like it does so by arbitrarily turning its heroine into a powerless victim.
All this leaves me hoping that the next time I see a film with a young female protagonist, she has some modicum of agency. It would be a nice change.
Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)
Les Notres (no MPAA rating) can be seen beginning June 18 at select theaters (including Columbus’s Gateway Film Center) and through VOD outlets.