The piece below was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the art being covered in this piece wouldn't exist.
Amongst the Sundance festival programming I was able to view this year, Other People’s Children is the narrative film that’s remained on my mind months later. As a godmother without children of my own, I found much to relate with in French writer and director Rebecca Zlotowski’s introspective film. Virginie Efira (Revoir Paris, Benedetta) stars as Rachel, a forty-something high school teacher in the heated early stage of a relationship with divorced car builder Ali (Roschdy Zem, Savages). She’s postponed having kids, but meeting and caring for Ali’s daughter Leila (an adorable young actress named Callie Ferreira-Goncalves) leads Rachel to want a child.
Other People’s Children moves quietly through seasons as it focuses on Rachel’s interior world. Efira’s facial movements tell us much, even as Rachel vocally appeases Ali or calms Leila down. Ferreira-Goncalves as Leila is so utterly charming (and this is from someone easily disappointed by child actors) that it’s perfectly understandable why Rachel would grow so close to her. Zlotowski’s screenplay centers the stepmother experience, that feeling of caring deeply for a child in a more tenuous connection. Through the film Rachel’s attachment to Leila grows, even while her relationship to Ali begins to falter.
Efira is the soul of the work while we follow this year in Rachel’s life, as she comes to realize her options for pregnancy become ever more limited (in a related note: documentary filmmaker Frederick Wiseman plays her OB-GYN, an aptly titled Dr. Wiseman). Rachel counsels one of her troubled students, she becomes a new aunt, and she navigates her relationship with indecisive Ali and his kind ex-wife Alice (Chiara Mastroianni, Persepolis, Chicken with Plums) – even if she disagrees with some of their parenting decisions.
Zlotowski’s celebration of the stepmother figure is relatively unique to this film — not a common theme we’ve seen before — although Other People’s Children shows a refreshing appreciation for childless women in general. In this tender film, Efira delivers one of the best performances of the year so far.
Other People’s Children is now available on Blu-ray from Music Box Films. Included in the package:
- A featurette of interviews with Zlotowski, Efira and Zem. The director discusses how she came to write the screenplay during the early days of COVID, as well as her previous collaboration with Zem and desire to cast him as a romantic lead. She notes, “I’ve always loved those love stories that make us who we are.” Efira and Zem share about working with Ferreira-Goncalves and the young actress’ amazing ability to keep her real life separate from the script.
- The TIFF pre-screening introduction by Zlotowski and post-screening Q&A session with the director and Efira. The French actress speaks about her eagerness to work with Zlotowski after loving one of her previous films so much she bought DVDs and gave it to friends.