Have you ever been in a cinema where literally everyone was left ugly crying due to the beauty of the movie? Well, that's what happened to me one lovely afternoon when I went to see 'The Bélier Family' ('La Famille Bélier') - but trust me, these are tears you want to be tasting.
The Beliers are a deaf family, using French Sign language as their primary source of communication. However, Paula, the eldest daughter is able to hear, and often acts as her family's interpreter. Helping smooth over business interactions (and hilariously) making conversations with the local mayor more polite. But Paula is discovered to have a gift: she has a beautiful singing voice. It's how she and her family come to deal with this that creates the main conceit of the film.
There are so many good things to say about this film, it's hard to know what to focus on. The story is so strong and roles so well-performed; it's funny and heartwarming and heartbreaking all at the same time. In essence, this is a coming-of-age movie, with Paula discovering who she is and where she fits in the world. Having her be the only hearing member of her family makes her plight with her gift all the more heartbreaking. The internal struggle she goes through is so intense, and so well portrayed by Louane Emera, that if she doesn't win an award for this performance it would be an outrage. Her parents will never be able to fully appreciate her gift, and there are some very clever devices to help us identify and experience their position.
The fantastic thing this film does is show of the deaf community in its full and wonderful glory. As a subplot, her father runs for mayor and has wonderful things to say when asked if his deafness will be an issue as mayor (obviously it wont be). The first scene is so funny and true, with the simple act of preparing breakfast; Paula is subjected to loud banging and clanging, knives and forks on plates and noisy eating.
The story is so strong and roles so well-performed; it's funny and heartwarming and heartbreaking all at the same time.
The only issue I had to with the film was the stunted flow of conversation, and how Paula repeated everything her parents said then both spoke and signed back. I know this is a film and it makes it more accessible for a hearing audience, but it just didn't ring true. In all likelihood she would probably just sign back and if she were to speak not repeat the last thing that was said. But thats such a small gripe, it doesn't actually change the impact at all.
The one thing you will have no doubt about after watching 'The Belier Family' is just how much they all love each other. It is such a strong family connection, and it's just beautiful. A family not defined or inhibited by their deafness, but by each other. I can't recommend this movie enough; it has something for everyone, but do yourself a favour and take some tissues - it is one emotional ride.