The whole Bélier family is deaf, except for sixteen-year-old Paula who is the important translator in her parents' day to day life especially when it comes to matters concerning the family farm. When her music teacher discovers she has a fantastic singing voice and she gets an opportunity to enter a big Radio France contest the whole family's future is set up for big changes.
Being a teenager is awkward and embarrassing at the best of times, but try being the only hearing member of a deaf family, and having to translate for everyone at the doctor’s office, the bank and the market stall. Not to mention having uninhibited parents (François Damiens and Karin Viard) who vigorously pursue an active sex life and anxiously await their daughter’s first menstrual cycle. This is the predicament of shy, beautiful Paula (Louane Emera), a girl who escapes by donning her headphones and singing her heart out as she rides her bike to school near her family’s dairy farm. It’s no wonder Paula tries to keep her family a secret, especially when she falls for a cute boy (Ilian Bergala) and discovers her own surprising singing talent, fostered by a stern Gainsbourg-like choirmaster (Eric Elmosnino, who actually played Gainsbourg in the 2010 biopic). Yet Paula’s double lives can’t help but collide when she has to choose between her family, whom she adores, and a singing career that will take her away to Paris.
‘Feelgood’ is the word most commonly associated with this French comic crowd-pleaser, and there’s a tendency to underestimate films that work so well at playing our emotions. Yet The Bélier Family, directed by Éric Lartigau (The Big Picture) earns every tear and chortle with its mix of sensitivity and rude exuberance. Emera is simply wonderful as the slightly round-shouldered teen hiding a golden voice. (This is her first acting role after she was discovered as a runner-up contestant in France’s version of The Voice and she won Most Promising actress at the 2015 César Awards.) Damiens and Viard are both hilarious and infuriating as the provincial parents who see their daughter’s hearing as a disability rather than a gift, while Luca Gelberg is funny and sweet as the younger brother with a humiliating allergy to latex. Together the actors create a unique and slightly exaggerated portrait of a family so loving and close they threaten to stifle each other.
Emera is simply wonderful as the slightly round-shouldered teen hiding a golden voice.
There’s a refreshing Gallic frankness about sex and bodily functions providing much of the humour here, and you can just imagine how Hollywood might (and probably will) stuff up a remake. But it’s the unashamed use of music to mirror and express emotion that really gives the film heart. In several extended performance sequences, Paula sings the songs of beloved French pop singer and songwriter Michel Sardou, especially "Je vole" (about a child needing to spread its wings and leave the nest). It’s not subtle, but it does what it needs to, providing an impassioned plea by the girl for her parents to let go and not see her transformation as a rejection. Conversely, Lartigau is generous to the parents too, showing one of the concert performances without sound so we can experience the bafflement and boredom of those who cannot hear. It’s a moment when the viewer truly understands the huge gap between Paula and her parents and their difficulty in bridging it. Bafflement and boredom are rare, however, in this film that’s both simple and effective. Take tissues and leave cynicism at home.
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