Sundance 2023: Other People’s Children, by David Bax
Not having previously seen any of director Rebecca Zlotowski‘s work (an error I now intend to correct), I had no way of knowing, as Other People’s Children started, what good hands I was in. So when the opening shots included the Eiffel Tower lit up at night accompanied by jazzy piano music, I briefly wondered, “Is this gonna be cheesy?” Despite the fact that it’s remarkably well-photographed, it just seemed obvious. Well, shame on me. Other People’s Children is by no means cheesy or obvious. What it is, really, is classical. This is a good old-fashioned movie made with such intelligence, humanity and know-how that it’s better than most of the new-fashioned movies made in recent years.
Composer Robin Coudert (credited along with co-composer Gael Rakotondrabe) was clearly well briefed on the mission. That’s not really a surprise, given that he’s been Zlotowski’s collaborator throughout her directing premiere. But if, like me, you only know him from his more modern-tinged and avant garde scores for movies like Coralie Fargeat‘s Revenge or Oz Perkins‘ Gretel & Hansel, it may well come as a pleasant shock that he is equally adept at a classical, romantic movie score. Coudert does remain true to form, though, in the fact that his compositions will not be ignored. This is bold music, not background music.
Zlotowski is just as successful at choosing her cast as her composer. Virginie Efira, recently seen headlining Paul Verhoeven‘s Benedetta, proves herself to be an absolute movie star, beloved by the camera and equal to its challenge, as Rachel, a middle-aged single woman looking for love. Meanwhile, Roschdy Zem as Ali, the single father with whom Rachel falls in love and to whose daughter she becomes a dear parental figure, makes a strong, sturdy stamp on the screen. Zem has appeared in other great movies (Those Who Love Me Can Take the Train, Bird People) but makes an unforgettable impression here. Also, Frederick Wiseman shows up for one scene as a gynecologist. He’s good; don’t question it.
Adding to the impression that Other People’s Children is kind of a throwback–a real movie in a long line of real movies–Zlotowski repeatedly uses the time-tested iris as a scene ender. But her irises behave erratically, closing in at irregular speeds and changing their focal points mid-transition. It’s a playful nod to the past and a reminder that a drama, even one that deals with emotions as weighty as those we encounter here, can and, in some cases, should be fun.
Maybe that’s a reminder people need. Or maybe not. What matters is that Other People’s Children is as great as it is because it’s willing to be a good, old-fashioned romantic drama formed by caring and talented hands.