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Review: ‘Les Nôtres’ is a chilly depiction of a Quebec town rotting at its core

A teenage girl sits on the floor of a restroom texting on her phone.
Emilie Bierre in the movie “Les Nôtres.
(Babas Photography / Oscilloscope Laboratories)

The Times is committed to reviewing theatrical film releases during the COVID-19 pandemic. Because moviegoing carries risks during this time, we remind readers to follow health and safety guidelines as outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local health officials.

A thick stillness, conjured by carefully composed shots of pained suburbanites, is the primary ingredient in French Canadian writer-director Jeanne Leblanc’s “Les Nôtres” (Ours), a story of how a teenage girl’s secret-then-not-so-secret pregnancy reveals a small town’s hidden fault lines.

In the close-knit community of Sainte-Adeline, Quebec, Magalie (Émilie Bierre) is a popular high school kid until the news of her pregnancy — discovered after a fainting spell in dance class — starts its ripple effect. Her single mother (Marianne Farley), just bouncing back after losing Magalie’s father five years earlier to a factory accident, thrusts a well-intentioned social worker (Guillaume Cyr) on her daughter between bouts of worry and anger. Slut-shaming begins at school. And when it’s speculated that the father is Mexican-born classmate Manu (Léon Diconca Pelletier), sensitive foster child of the town’s beloved mayor (Paul Doucet) and kind-eyed wife (Judith Baribeau, Leblanc’s co-screenwriter), the town’s racism surfaces.

Leblanc’s mission, evident in a visual style that isolates people in focus-cramped shots, is to depict the community as a bunch of dulled individuals cut off from one another. That portrayal goes both for those who hurt and — considering the terrible reality Mag withholds from everyone but the audience about her pregnancy — the ones doing the harming.

What keeps “Les Nôtres” from being effective, however, is that it rarely makes the transition from coolly observed case study to compellingly messy, resonant human drama. Characters and performances seem held at bay, unable to move past simple psychologizing and schematic plotting. Leblanc has a painstaking approach to mood, but when it comes to the people onscreen, it’s difficult to imagine them living outside the visual rigor of her images and scenes.

'Les Nôtres'

In French with English subtitles

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 43 minutes

Playing: Laemmle Royal and Virtual Cinemas


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