Not on My Watch: Little lies and heavy consequences
by Fabien Lemercier
- Talented filmmaker Emmanuelle Cuau is back after ten years of absence with a family thriller carried by Virginie Efira
"When you love your children, you don’t want anything to happen to them, right? It is around this ethical question broached through the family thriller genre that Emmanuelle Cuau returns to the big screen, a director gifted with a number of directing talents whose work is nonetheless all too rare, as Not on My Watch [+see also:
film profile], released today by Ad Vitam, is just her 3rd feature after Circuit Carole (1995) and Very Well, Thank You [+see also:
film profile] (2007).
Once again tackling the subject of chains of events, which was also at the heart of her previous opus, but this time from another angle, the filmmaker once again demonstrates, with a very limited budget (€1.17 million), the extent of her skill at subtly, with just a few strokes and the art of the unsaid, making her characters’ behaviour seem real, skilfully managing the rhythm of the narration and getting the best out of her outstanding actors, especially Belgian actress Virginie Efira, who carries the film with vigour (in a role that almost plays against her usual cheeky performances), as well as the ever-strong Gilbert Melki and youngsters Renan Prevot, Jean-Baptiste Blanc and Zacharie Chasseriaud.
Opening in Paris under the guise of a socially engaged film, Not on My Watch sees Nathalie (Efira) receive some "news that isn’t all that nice" over the phone as she’s walking to her first day in her new place of work as a jeweller: in the end they went with someone else. For the young woman, who is recently widowed and has come back to France after a spell in Canada, it’s a catastrophe: "I’ve given up everything for this job; I’ve moved, sent my children off to school. What am I supposed to do all by myself in a city I don’t know?" It’s a nasty surprise, which she hides from her two children, Paul (15 years-old) and Bastien (eight years-old), so they don’t worry. But this lie, which drags on as Nathalie secretly finds a job as a waitress before later finding a job in a jeweller’s, has heavy consequences. Indeed Paul (Prevot) becomes friends with Léo (Chasseriaud), a classmate who uses the family wine cellar to stockpile drugs. And when he realises what’s going on and turns to his mother, Paul discovers (without her knowing) that she’s lied to him. Disappointed and in the throes of a teenage crisis, he pretends to his family that he knows nothing, and allows Léo and his mentor Fred (Melki) to pull him into the world of drug trafficking. Until the day that things take a turn for the worse and his mother in turn realises that her eldest son is in big trouble ("my friends can be violent, if they have to be"), doing everything she can to help him out of it...
Always on the go, filmed with finesse and edited with scientific tempo, Not on My Watch is an accomplished portrayal of a micro family unit that is solid and affectionate, but in which a loss of trust creates cracks that appear and get bigger and bigger, until they become hazardous gaps that must be bridged at all costs to stop everything collapsing. And while it’s clear that the thriller genre is not the preferred territory of the director at all, with the plausibility of these series of events in the criminal world being very relative, the fact remains that the film unquestionably demonstrates that Emmanuelle Cuau deserves greater resources to make the most of her potential.
(Translated from French)