The teenagers passing through this Swiss halfway home have suffered various traumas and losses, but their ebullience and irrepressible vitality as they share secrets and gleefully antagonise each other are what first jump out on screen. As The Fam (La Mif) progresses, its cyclical narrative structure brings out new depths to their initial hallway hi-jinks and changing room confessions. While the film never dwells on the abuse in their backstories – these only come up in closed-door discussions between social workers – the bumpy road ahead comes to the fore in the smallest obsessions and habits.

Director Fred Baillif has built a reputation on working with non-professional actors and draws on his experience in youth homes to inform the script’s character-driven narrative. His young performers were involved in creating their characters from the beginning, and they make each young person’s rebellions rooted in truth. This is not a film about trauma’s deep processing as much as it is about moving forward in life; there are elements of each in both, but externalised focus on behaviour avoid the exploitative pitfalls a tale of underaged survivors could fall into.

The teenagers’ effervescence finds a mirror and foil in home director Lora. Claudia Grob’s performance highlights her tenacious, ceaseless advocacy for even the most troublesome teenager and problematic happening while also her easy rapport with her charges. In a strong move, she is the only one given time to express her past tragedies in her own words – tragedies and mistakes that illumine her motivations. These words are spoken honestly and plainly to her charges, making the two-way trust palpable.

The Fam avoids exploitation and sentimentality by letting its young characters exist in their present rather than past. By celebrating the teenagers’ untapped possibility alongside a more measured exploration of carers’ concerns, humanity and hope are not lost amidst systemic struggles.

RATING: 4/5


INFORMATION

CAST: Claudia Grob, Anaïs Uldry, Kassia Da Costa, Joyce Esther Ndayisenga, Charlie Areddy, Amélie Tonsi, Amandine Golay, Sara Tulu, Nadim Ahmed, Isabel De Abreu Cannavo

DIRECTOR: Fred Baillif

WRITER: Fred Baillif

SYNOPSIS: At a youth halfway house, director Lora fights for her charges and their new lives.