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La Mif: A subtly devastating documentary which bristles with indignation

Fred Baillif's 'The Fam' is raw, restless and natural, getting close to its subjects in a way that the institution tasked with protecting them cannot.

La mif film still

Writer-director Fred Baillif draws on his experience of working in social care to tell the story of seven girls living in a residential care home. La Mif – 'The Fam' – has a documentarian’s eye for the minutiae of gesture and inflection. Baillif understands how to tell a story within a continuous shot, how to frame on the move, how to unearth the emotional core that sits beneath his subjects’ defiant postures, teasing out feats of informality from his non-professional cast.

Cinematographer Joseph Arredy’s camera gets close to its subjects in a way that the institution tasked with protecting them cannot, achieving a degree of naturalism which stands alongside the Dardenne brothers and Ken Loach in its low-key humanity. The real virtue of La Mif is its ability to be intimate without being intrusive, rendering faces as continents of loss.

Baillif is not afraid to let a scene breathe, to let the context slowly reveal itself within a narrative structure that is deceptively complex. He plays with timeframes in a way which speaks to the intermingling of these lives straining to formulate some semblance of a family structure.

The girls present the reality of their stories, inhabiting rather than performing, honouring the truth of their experience in the fictionalised retelling of episodes from their lives. What is captured is raw and restless, but it’s anchored by a sterling performance from Claudia Grob as as the house’s tireless manager, Lora. Grob ably traces Lora’s struggle to reconcile the demands of the institution and the needs of the individual, to mitigate the pain around and inside her.

La Mif is a subtly devastating work which bristles with indignation, but it never falls into the trap of didacticism, opting instead for radical empathy. Bailliff eschews romanticism and voyeurism to pursue the vulnerability and candour that the story demands, confronting taboos with an unflinching eye. La Mif is unremitting in its depiction of hardship, but it’s also a celebration of resilience. In Baillif’s hands, the process becomes one of alighting upon a shared recognition of pain. La Mif may not be comfortable viewing, but it is essential viewing.

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