Frederic Baillif’s superb feature-length debut, The Fam, sneaks up on you. The Swiss film’s deceptively straightforward, documentary-like, low-key narrative reveals layer upon layer of emotional complexity as it unfolds. Turbulent waters rage underneath the quiet surface. Further bolstered by an impeccable cast of young performers, the movie functions as a razor-sharp critique of contemporary society’s misguided values, as well as an examination of the traumas that shape us. But first and foremost, it’s a shrewd study of adolescence, amplified. It reveals Baillif as a highly perspicacious cinematic reporter.
The Fam takes place in a children’s home, a temporary respite for abused, neglected, and in some cases just deeply resentful kids. In the opening scene, the home’s manager, Lora (Claudia Grob), along with her diligent staff, bid farewell to a girl they’ve nurtured and raised for years. With each departure, a portion of Lora’s soul dissipates.
“…the home’s manager…along with her diligent staff, bid farewell to a girl they’ve nurtured and raised for years.”
Baillif splits his film into segments named after the young female protagonists. Audrey’s (Anaïs Uldry) sexual experience with a minor creates a ripple effect of consequences: she gets arrested, the establishment is promptly reverted back to being an all-girls school (despite Lora pleading the case passionately), and the girl’s repressed sexuality eventually (almost) leads to her becoming “the minor.”
Audrey’s friend, the volatile Novinha (Kassia Da Costa), is pissed off at the world. Granted, the world hasn’t really given her a chance to express herself. “You’re all bastards,” she tells one of the supervisors. When she’s sent back home to her mom for a “test week,” Novinha is greeted by a half-inebriated woman on her way out to party.
Perhaps the most heartbreaking segment follows Précieuse (Joyce Esther Ndayisenga), whose harrowing backstory – told in an unbroken close-up by the riveting young actress – gains a whole new resonance when revisited later. Then there’s Caroline (Amandine Golay), who loses her father and threatens to kill herself; Justine (Charlie Areddy), whose family was split apart by a traumatic event – the list goes on, Baillif treating his cinematic family with great generosity and a keen eye for detail. At the center of it all is Lora, who fills up her own grief by helping these troubled, abandoned girls.
"…some scenes seemingly tread off-path yet fit perfectly within the plot."