Fred Baillif’s third fiction feature is a riveting and bristling examination of trauma and the need for familial intimacy.
Sarah Gavron’s Rocks had neglected teenage girls telling a gritty but optimistic tale of a makeshift family. Fred Baillif’s similarly-styled La Mif initially appears to be its Swiss counterpart, yet slowly reveals itself as a far bleaker affair.
The film , which is slang for family (“The Fam”), is set in a residential care home for teenagers, one that authorities have to be reminded is “not a prison”. Those who live there attempt to find sanctuary and community with one another, but an incident which breaks the laws around teenage consent triggers a chain reaction that widens the cracks in the system.
Where La Mif works best is in the moments of reflection between girls talking about how they ended up where they are, confessing what they feel ashamed of and trying to manufacture the familial intimacy they crave. The path to residential care isn’t a happy one, but to see childhood brutality laid out so nonchalantly makes for almost unbearable viewing.
The residual trauma the young actresses are able to portray, which manifests in myriad ways, is powerful in its understatement. Where the film overplays its hand is trying to connect these stories to the administrators, social workers and larger crises within the care system. Those tangents feel at best superfluous and at worst, white saviourism.
There is a lack of catharsis in the conclusion which, to the film’s credit, feels apt. It’s a powerful story with no easy way forward for anyone concerned.
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Published 25 Feb 2022
Tags: Fred Baillif La Mif
Rocks in French? Yep, we’ll bite.
Well-made but a highly unenjoyable subject matter.
Understated and powerful filmmaking from Fred Bailiff.