French Film Festival Review: In Safe Hands (Pupille)

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Adoption movies are a sub-genre in themselves: usually either sickeningly saccharine, or too wedded to the wicked step-mother trope. So one must scream “merci!” to actor-turned-director Jeanne Herry for finally breaking through with this master work on the subject.
Herry’s impeccable screenplay gives us all the character arcs we want, but in a documentary-like narrative framework. At first she gives us snapshots of people and events: a professional foster father, a young relinquishing mother, over-worked social services staff, and a woman desperate for a child. Gradually, these images come together, to form a whole in the life of baby Theo.
Sandrine Kiberlain is outstanding as Karine, the social worker who is tasked with finding a permanent family for Theo. Elodie Bouchez is heart-wrenching as Alice. Gilles Lellouche gives delightful humanity to Jean, the foster-carer. This dream-team ensemble also features the wonderful Miou-Miou as a social worker.

Although here and there is some drama, some heightened emotions, some entanglements, this work delivers its story in a gentle, rocking movement, like…yes…a baby’s cradle. Herry gives us minute details of the processes of relinquishing, fostering and adopting a baby. Far from boring, it is these small, important, human, details that give this film its depth. Fear not that this is a worthy but slow offering: it moves gently but fast, and is extraordinarily suspenseful. We find ourselves caring about every character, and that is a rarity.

A shining, humane, sophisticated work, Pupille is film-making at its finest.

In Safe Hands (Pupille) screens as part of the Alliance Francaise French Film Festival at PalaceNova Eastend and Prospect.
Click here for screening times.

A work of gentle, cinematic genius 5 stars

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