THE STORY – Rachel (Virginie Efira) is a happy, 40-ish-year-old schoolteacher who loves her life, her friends, her job, and even her exes. She is exploring the idea of having a child but is not desperate to have one. She is intrigued by the concept, ambivalent about it at times — an authentic encapsulation of the conundrum many women around her age face.
THE CAST – Virginie Efira, Roschdy Zem, Chiara Mastroianni, Callie Ferreira-Goncalves, Yamée Couture & Michel Zlotowski
THE TEAM – Rebecca Zlotowski (Director/Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 104 Minutes
Films often explore fatherhood and motherhood, but not what it’s like to be the stepmother or stepfather to someone else’s child. In particular, we’ve grown up with films that have depicted stepmothers as evil, but rarely does it explore the deep connection they can form with a child they’ve suddenly become a part of raising. Rebecca Zlotowski’s “Other People’s Children” explores this kind of dynamic but through the eyes of a woman who never had a child of her own, wants one, and is reaching the last tick of the biological clock. It’s a subject that results in an emotional rollercoaster that’s bittersweet in its exploration of the fragility of the bond between stepmother and child. In perfectly capturing the fluctuating maternal desires that many have, “Other People’s Children” becomes a love letter to childless women.
Falling in love with someone who has a child is a risky game, but Rachel (Virginie Efira) takes the plunge and dives head first. When we first meet her, the romance with Ali (Roschdy Zem) is new. Like a teenager with a crush, she anxiously anticipates a text from him. She can’t think of anything else. Her focus is elsewhere during meetings with her fellow teachers at school, but she somehow manages to pull it together whenever called upon. She runs around with giddiness in her step. Her rose-colored glasses are tightly worn. Instantly, you feel the chemistry and love between the pair thanks to the fantastic leading performances and their portrayal of that early honeymoon phase. That slight brush of a hand, still unsure if it’s okay to hold it. They sit comfortably in silence, and their embrace is electric with passion.
Ali warns Rachel that dealing with other people’s children isn’t easy, but she can’t wait to meet his four-year-old daughter Leila (Callie Ferreira-Goncalves). She’s absolutely adorable, so it is no surprise that Rachel’s affection for her is instantaneous. She now takes on the role of stepmother, never having been a mother herself. She’s in her 40s, and while helping raise another woman’s child, she realizes she wants one of her own. However, the biological clock is ticking, and as her relationship with Ali and Leila grows, so does her desire for her own child. As much as she loves and wants Leila to be her own, she can never be. You see the hurt on Rachel’s face when the child she picks up from judo and tucks into bed at night calls for Alice (Chiara Mastroianni), her birth mother, especially when their bonding is so joyful. A bond with a child that isn’t yours is, as mentioned, a risky game. And as cracks begin to appear in Ali and Rachel’s relationship, the fragile string that ties her to Leila risks snapping.
The film’s script is so carefully crafted in the way it captures all the complexities of this kind of relationship and also of just being a woman. What aids in the success of the writing is how we are provided with a full portrait of Rachel. It’s important to understand her life and past regrets to really hammer home the frustration of her fluctuating maternal feelings, the pressure of being a mother, and the emotional rollercoaster that is her relationship with Ali and Leila. Efira is one of Europe’s hardest-working and most prolific stars, and that matches the qualities she conveys on screen. Intelligence, femininity, vulnerability, innocence, and fierceness, she has it all. Cinematographer George Lechaptois’s use of fade-ins and fade-outs to follow Rachel’s life works like a bullet journal. Every movement of the iris marks a significant moment. It’s a countdown of her life from work, family, and friends to the end of the possibility of motherhood.
As Rachel tries to find a place in Leila’s life, you wonder if a rivalry will eventually ensue between her and Alice. Luckily, the film doesn’t stoop to melodrama. Zlotowski also makes the decision to explore another relationship with a child that Rachel has in her life: Her student Dylan (Victor Lefebvre). While it is a subplot that often takes us away from the most engaging part of this story, it proves to work as an essential point in the end: Even though you don’t have children of your own, you can still make an impact on their lives.
“Other People’s Children” is an extremely contemporary piece about womanhood and motherhood. It discusses a relatable topic not often explored in film. Around all of its tender moments, mixed with subtle and charming humor, is the relatability of living as a childless woman. With Rachel, all the frustration and hard-to-express feelings on the topic are put into words for us. She believes she can be complete without a child, and she’s proud to be amongst those who don’t have one, but motherhood is such a huge collective experience that it’s hard not to sometimes feel the weight of its absence in our lives.