By John Campbell
Set in provincial France, Eric Lartigau’s endearing coming-of-age movie begins with a song of thrilling expectation and ends with one of heart-breaking resignation. Gigi (Karin Viard) is the teenaged daughter of deaf parents – her younger brother is similarly afflicted – and we encounter her riding her bicycle to the school bus stop while listening to the rambunctious pop of the Ting Tings’ That’s Not My Name.
Going against the popular practice of colour-by-numbers filmmaking, Gigi’s family is not dysfunctional. Her mother Paula (Louane Emera) makes cheeses, her father Rodolphe (François Damiens) tends to the cows and all is warm and jolly in their stone farmhouse. Clouds gather, however, when the music teacher Fabien (Eric Elmosnino) discovers Gigi’s rare singing talent and urges her to apply for a position at an exclusive Paris academy.
Gigi’s domestic idyll is further confounded by the arrival of her first period (she seems a bit old to only now begin menstruating, but that’s neither here nor there). Coping with change is never easy, but the potential upheaval of the Béliers’ lives is even more stressful because Gigi is the conduit through which her unhearing parents connect with the outside world.
A not altogether convincing sub-plot concerned with Rodolphe running for mayor is only a minor distraction from the torment that tears at Gigi’s heart. For Paula, the prospect of losing her daughter provokes near hysterical anger – in a remarkable and, you suspect, perspicacious outburst she admits to hating people who can hear – while Rodolpe is reduced to stony grief.
A turning point arrives at Gigi’s performance at the school concert. It is generally little more than a gimmick when a director deletes the audio, but in this case it is perfectly attuned to the moment, for, in absolute silence, we are able to share the parents’ wonder as they witness the effect that Gigi has on those around them.
Viard’s ingénue is paired with Damiens’s bearded papa bear in a timeless story of loss and discovery.