Film Review: La Mif – London Film Festival 2021

Reviewer: Maryam Philpott

Writer and Director: Fred Baillif

Films about working class experiences often focus on social care and broken families, and now Fred Baillif’s Swiss production adds to the genre with a female-focused film set in a children’s home in which the staff and the young women they look after are afforded equal status. All troubled in their different ways, the characters of La Mif which translates as ‘The Fam’ find support and solace in the protective family they build together.

When 16-year old Audrey is caught having sex with a 14-year old boy, the girl is arrested and the home designated female only. With Novinha unable to control her emotional outbursts, Précieuse arriving under a protection order and manager Lora under duress to maintain order following her return from sick leave, Audrey’s actions create a pressure cooker environment that comes between them all as staff and children react to their new circumstances.

As with any family, there are as many fights and fallouts as there are happy times and in the wake of Audrey’s indiscretion, how this changes the dynamic is the subject of Baillif’s film as fierce protective instincts emerge in the girls who know little about the reason for Audrey’s sudden removal and equally sudden reappearance. Plenty of scenes show the verbally and sometimes physically abusive behaviour that the professional staff must work hard to quell while maintaining the privacy and confidentiality requirements of their cases.

La Mif is structured around each individual, giving around 10-15 minutes to the perspective and background of each young woman, clearly showing the vast array of traumas, issues and family circumstances that have led them to the children’s home. Around that, Baillif employs a documentary, almost constructed reality approach to filming scenes, and while the acting sometimes reminds you that this is fiction, the style creates an immersive, almost intrusive perspective that gets deep into the action.

As a device, it is both enlightening and slightly alienating, shedding light on bad behaviour including petty theft and the unprovoked torment of an old man, vicious verbal tirades against the staff and the statutory rape that are perhaps psychologically explained by the context Baillif provides but don’t always make it easy to sympathise with the poorly directed anger of the girls who show little remorse.

Performers Kassia Da Costa as the furious Novinha, Joyce Esther Ndayisenga as the sweet new girl Précieuse, and Anaïs Uldry’s sexually provocative Audrey stand out, along with Claudia Grob as beleaguered manger Lora under pressure from the Board but receiving little support from her furious charges who resent the secrets the staff must keep and the boundaries they enforce to protect them.

La Mif readily creates character and circumstances that give a brutal and somewhat unrelenting picture of social care that, with little funding and plenty of external standards to meet, makes the work of the staff so admirable. And in its portrait of a group of young adults building their own, sometimes combustible, unit where family and society has failed them, La Mif offers a hard reality.

La Mif is screening at the London Film Festival.

The Reviews Hub Score

A hard reality

The Reviews Hub - Film

The Reviews Hub Film Team is under the editorship of Maryam Philpott.

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