Martial Fougeron’s film My Son follows the initially mundane lives of a family of four with stubborn determination. It’s all smiles to begin with, as we’re introduced to Julien (Victor Sévaux) and his mother (Nathalie Baye), dancing together in the living room. The father (Olivier Gourmet) seems rather absent, but Julien gets on well with older sister Suzanne (Marie Kremer). However Julien almost seems to live a parallel life outside the home, dressing and acting differently around his grandmother and his girlfriend Alice. Whenever he returns he’s going out of his way to please his mother, whose love for him becomes increasingly sinister.
The pacing of My Son is pretty much the same throughout – there are no montages and very little music to speed things up. Our sense of frustration and concern grows as we see Julien sacrificing more and more, yet never satisfying his mother. It seems her love is a crushing, overwhelming force in their lives. The cinematography has a crisp simplicity similar to that of another French film The Page Turner (La Tourneuse de Pages), and cinematographer Giorgos Arvanitis also worked on Catherine Breillat’s Anatomy of Hell (Anatomie de l’enfer). As with Breillat’s film there’s very little in the way of showy camerawork – Arvanitis keeps the shots as simplistic as possible in favour of keeping the audience focussed on events. More invasive cinematography would have distanced viewers from the disturbing nature of the narrative.
It’s the subtlety of the abuse on show here that frightens the most. The mother’s obsession is so gradual it’s little wonder no one but Suzanne notices. When actual violence finally makes its entrance it’s almost a disappointment – the creepiness was so wonderfully intangible up until that point.
This single-minded narrative has no room for subplots, and such a focus works for and against a film like this. Its short running time is appreciated, however, and as a subtle yet uncompromising film it only disappoints in the last few moments.Rating: