Among several recent standout films such as Groomed and Slalom that are about the sexual manipulation and abuse of young girls, director Jeanne Leblanc’s Les Notres (Our Own) distinguishes itself for its seeming “normal” depiction of small town life until it gradually turns dark and uncomfortable.
Set in a small town in Quebec where not only does everyone know everyone else but where everyone helped each other cope with the off-screen tragedy of a factory fire that killed several key characters. Mayor Jean-Marc Ricard (Paul Doucet) takes credit for the aftermath of the fire as the films with a dedication of a park to victims and survivors. One of those survivors is13-year-old Magalie (Emilie Bierre) whose father died in the inferno and whose loving, grieving mother Isabelle (Marianne Farley) not only reveres Jean-Marc as all the townspeople do but also works for him.
It’s these tangled interpersonal dynamics that make this film so horrific once we learn that Magalie is pregnant and she insists on protecting her abuser — Jean-Marc ) not a spoiler; Leblanc lays out all the clues with delicate precision. “Les Notes” is quietly and powerfully disturbing because it depicts the sinister nature of grooming and predation almost entirely though the experience of Magalie who has no experience or ability to process or cope with such a situation. Her mother reaches out — and the film is terrific at portraying a realistic mother/daughter relationship — but Magalie responds in the ways that victims are taught and threatened to do and remains silent. This is one of the most harrowing aspects of the film even though it portrays the child’s complicity without sensationalism.
Leblanc co-wrote this devastating script with Judith Baribeau, who stars in the key role of Jean-Marc’s wife and the mother of their two adopted boys who figure prominently in the plot. Her character arc is suspenseful and surprising, as is all of this compelling, well-crafted film.