Lullaby is an adaption of the worldwide best-selling novel of the same name, depending on what country you’re in, penned by Leila Slimani and inspired by true events. Set in France, a bleak scene is set from the opening monologue. Only a dog away from the nuclear family; stay-at-home mother, Myriam, with a young child and an infant baby, waiting for the father, Paul, to return from work. It would be perfect if Myriam (Leïla Bekhti) was not filled with regret and did not fucking hate her life choices. She has a desire to return to work and recapture some resemblance of what life was like before committing to giving birth. Twice. After some discussion with Paul (Antoine Reinartz) the couple agree to hire a nanny.
The nanny selection process begins and after interviewing a handful of candidates (all female; sexists) enter Louise (Karin Viard) the literal visualisation of nanny perfection. Louise immediately establishes a good connection with the elder of the two children, is kind and courteous to the parents, is very available and has references from previous families to boot. What a catch.
All is well in the house. Louise is a big hit with the children, creating boundaries, generating discipline when called for and emulating a safe and loving environment for kids. This allows Myriam and Paul to dive into their old lives, wasting no time in attending a friends house party which is full of alcohol, weed, loud elevator style dance music and, of course, magic tricks. Obviously. This leads down a road of parental neglect, power struggles and psychological buggery.
Viard is truly fantastic in this film, pure creep blended with a compassionate caring side with clear unaddressed mental health issues. The audience are unable to even consider her next move as she becomes more invested in the whole family unit and the state of her own personal life is slowly revealed. Unfortunately that is as good as it gets. As for the other characters Paul is annoying and contributes very little to anything. The story might actually be more engaging if Myriam was a single parent. Bekhti doesn’t feel right for Myriam. Her performance isn’t negative it is just hard to imagine that someone so young has had two children and also managed to become a fully qualified lawyer. Her age is not specified but the actress looks about twenty two at absolute maximum. Or perhaps she is closer to forty and just has an immaculate skin care routine. Or just maybe I am just a green eyed monster with a heavily receding hair line. Either way, I am not buying it.
The pacing of the film is akin to a paraplegic dragging themself through a 100m sprint. Cruel and unnecessary. I didn’t expect Michael Bay style explosions from this but when key beats were executed I was left largely underwhelmed. I expected dark twists and sharp violent turns. What I actually got was a light grey slight decline.
I am a big fan of allowing the audience to fill in some of the blanks in any narrative, spoon feeding destroys innovation, but there is far too much assumption within the script. Time elapses blindly. Other than the baby getting a bit bigger, there is no indication that the timeline has progressed but as the baby drools and cries all the time, it is difficult to pay him any attention, especially when the subtitles need reading. A lot of conversations are had off camera, resulting in attitude changes with some relationships that seem to come out of nowhere, which makes the production seem sloppy, which it absolutely is not. Don’t spoon feed me but at least let me see the fucking spoon! I believe this is why I think Paul is irrelevant, as the unseen conversations usually involve him. Paul is not interesting. He should be but he’s not. Nor is he likeable. No characters within this are truly likeable or easy to engage with.
Visually this is really quite charming. Highly interesting use of colours and semiotics, especially where Louise is concerned. She is introduced wearing a red outfit, indicating very early that she is some form of threat. Louise only has a few costume changes, but the red one always made me brace for impact. Sadly though, each brace was unwarranted. Again, I think the pace effects the impact on an audience in a bad way. What is actually a horribly depressing tale of people attempting to fill their empty lives with things they should not turns out to be quite a dull affair. Ending with a feeling of confusion and thankful that the dreary episode has concluded.
Dir: Lucie Borleteau
Scr: Lucie Borleteau and Jérémie Elkaïm
Cast: Karin Viard, Leïla Bekhti and Antoine Reinartz
Prd: Pascal Caucheteux, Nathalie Gastaldo, Philippe Godeau and Grégoire Sorlat
DOP: Alexis Kavyrchine
Music: Pierre Desprats
Run time: 110 minutes
Lullaby is available on DVD and Digital now