'Un Petit Frère' is a moving tale of a family of three Ivory Coast migrants - a mother and her two sons - fluid in its exploration of parenthood and broken family bonds, gripping in its persuasive depiction of brotherhood.
Viewed on Friday 27 May as press for the Cannes Film Festival 2022.
Following the story of a mother and her two young sons – Rose (Annabelle Lengronne), Jean (Stéphane Bak) and Ernest (Ahmed Sylla) – Léonor Serraille’s Un Petit Frère (2022), follows the tight-knit lives of Ivory Coast migrants who move to Paris in the eighties, and becomes a moving narrative of the creation and destruction of the family-unit. Serraille cleverly divides the film into three parts, attributing them to her three protagonists respectively, allowing the audiences to understand the fractured family-unit from all angles.
Every human on Earth has some sort of inconsistency, so I’m grateful Serraille never sugar-coats the reality of parenting. Rose is proud to be a single mother and wants to choose a husband on her own terms: “I am not owned,” she insists to Julius Caesar (Jean-Christophe Folly), a possible male suitor recommended by her auntie. However, from raunchy affairs acquired through her cleaning job, signing up for a hunting retreat at an orgy-infused chateau, to finally settling with Julius Caesar, you can’t help but warm to, and pity, Lengronne’s performance as a strict, fierce mother who would do anything to protect and lecture her sons, yet doesn’t adhere to her own lessons. Rose’s blunt, white-iron hypo-criticism that to be perfect is “all that matters” (when she is far from perfect herself) is Un Petit Frère‘s gripping core conflict, and is truly telling of humanity’s common reliance on creature comforts and eventually settling for the ‘mediocre’ when they deserve so much more.
The brilliance and heartbreak of Seraille’s Un Petit Frère is the impact of Rose’s parenting on her children, Jean and Ernest, that fractures them like a car crash in slow motion. Bak’s passionate performance as Jean – a child who has immense academic promise in his younger years, but turns to disobedience and addiction – in the film’s second act is hard to watch, but his anger towards his mother is completely convincing and understandable. Sylla’s more delicate performance as Ernest, especially in the film’s third act, is the glue that ties the narratives together. As the narrator of the film, Ernest’s humble beginnings as the ‘underdog’ is flipped on its head. He stays true to his character, exhibiting true ambition, and is arguably the most likable and successful protagonist by the film’s dénouement.
Un Petit Frère culminates in an electric, if not awkward, final conversation between a much older Rose and Ernest – mother and son (ironically the film’s updated title) – which alone should warrant the film an award. Rose is stuck in the past, unable to fully appreciate her son’s accomplishments without demanding more from him. Ernest, unable to make eye contact, wonders where it all went wrong.
Jean regresses. Ernest progresses. And, ultimately, Rose remains a constant.
If you’re craving an intimate family narrative following the winding, individual character journeys, you’re in for a treat. Crafted with insane intention to detail and care, Un Petit Frère proves to be one of the year’s most engrossing dramas, making me excited for what Seraille has in store for us in the future.