Someone described The Bélier Family not as a feel-good movie but as a feel-great movie. I wholeheartedly agree and couldn’t have expressed it better myself.
Sixteen-year-old Paula (Louane Emera) is the only one in her family who isn’t deaf. She therefore acts as the link between her parents, Rodolphe (François Damiens) and Gigi (Karin Viard), and younger brother, Quentin (Luca Gelberg), on the one hand and the world of the hearing on the other hand. The Bélier family lives on a farm and everyone pitches in to the best of their ability. At school, Paula signs up for a choir class to get to spend time with Gabriel Chevignon (Ilian Bergala), for whom she has feelings. Her music teacher, Fabien Thomasson (Eric Elmosnino), soon discovers that Paula has a talent for singing and encourages her to participate in a national audition for admission to a prestigious music school in Paris. If she succeeds, however, Paula would have to leave her parents and brother, who rely on her a great deal. Paula faces a difficult decision: should she stay with her family or take a chance to make her dream come true?
Co-writer (with Victoria Bedos, Stanislas Carré de Malberg, and Thomas Bidegain)/director Éric Lartigau employs numerous genre clichés but deftly turns all of them to his advantage. The Bélier Family feels familiar and the viewer can most likely guess where the story is going, yet one really wants to see it play out on the screen. The filmmakers have also managed to avoid making the fact that three of the four family members are deaf come across as a gimmick.
In addition to providing the film with various picturesque locations, the rural setting serves another purpose. The French countryside, the beauty of which cinematographer Romain Winding captures with warm colors, emphasizes the stark contrast between Paula’s current situation and the city life that awaits her if she chooses to pursue a career as a singer.
In a movie with plenty of humorous moments, there isn’t any comedy to be found in the two most memorable scenes. The first scene in question shows Paula’s parents and brother attending a performance of the choir. Lartigau’s masterstroke is to mute the sound during Paula and Gabriel’s duet, allowing the viewer to experience the event as the Béliers do: one doesn’t hear the singing, but one sees the effect it has on the other members of the audience. Most memorable scene number two is the climactic audition at which Paula delivers a rendition of Michel Sardou’s Je vole that is strikingly beautiful, both from a technical point of view and for the meaningfulness of the lyrics in the context of the film’s central theme of transitioning from childhood to adulthood.
Louane Emera turns in a winning performance in the role of Paula. She is a revelation and has a remarkably natural screen presence. There’s a nice, convincing familial chemistry between Emera, Damiens, Viard, and Gelberg (by the way, Gelberg is the only one of them who is actually deaf). Elmosnino does a scene-stealing turn as the exacting, eccentric music teacher monsieur Thomasson.
One gets pretty much what one expects to get from The Bélier Family, but the film engages and delights and moves the viewer in a way that earns it a place among the better entries in the comedy-drama genre. This crowd-pleaser of a movie overcomes its formulaic elements with humor, warmth, and irresistible charm.
(Original title: La famille Bélier.)