This is not at all a mountain film: The pictures of mountains are few, of relatively little power even considering the time of the turning, and, as soon as the camera ventures higher than the cows and goats of the mountain pastures, of no credibility at all, if ever you have visited glaciers and alpine mountains yourself. But that's no problem; this is not about mountains, but about people, and it's an excellent film about people.
In another comment, Gerald A. DeLuca calls this is a movie about "sin, repentance and forgiveness", and certainly, Christian religiousness thoroughly shapes both the cultural context of the story and the feelings of all the characters in situations of doubt, fear and distress. Yet, this is much more than a "Christian morality tale".
In Christian tradition, there are two stories about the origin of sin: Eva and Adam and Kain and Abel. On first sight, the story of Jean and Arlette is somewhat similar to the story of Kain and Abel: It's a story about hate among brothers and sisters, about envy and jealousy. Yet, in Kain and Abel, jealousy is the primordial sin, an evil reaction to incomprehensible or unjust behavior of God.
Not so in "Visages d'enfants": there is no primordial sin in the movie. All the characters are capable of love and understanding, none of them is actually evil or cruel. In that respect, it is quite humanistic, in spite of the ubiquitous religiosity. Where, then, does sin come from? The origins shown in the movie are surprisingly simple: plain misunderstandings, subtle and unconscious inattentiveness to the feelings of others, well-intentioned behavior all the same hurtful to other's feelings, and to a large extent: fear and pain.
The ultimate cause of the drama is obviously Pierre's failure to adequately address his son's intense mourning. But my impression is that the father is above all afraid and feeling helpless. In particular, he is afraid that he won't be able to stand a solitary life for long, he is afraid that he won't be able to cope with the household work beside his duties as the mayor of the village, he is afraid that he won't be able to show enough of his love towards his two children, he is afraid of losing patience with them as indeed sometimes he does, he is afraid of failing his children's' education. His courage is sufficient to tell the priest about part of his anxieties, but he lacks the strength to show weakness in front of his son. All those small weaknesses, failures and misunderstandings are extremely beautifully and convincingly depicted in the movie and you also see again and again how small hurts done breed mistrust, malice and hate, and hate breeds new hate, getting worse and worse.
In Christian tradition, the remedy to sin is remorse, confession, prayer and penance; and ultimately, trust in divine mercy. In the film, there is indeed remorse, in particular in Jean. Confession is not done in front of God, but in front of other human beings. Prayers do not ask for divine pardon, but for help in earthly distress. There is no trace of penance at all. Salvation does not arise out of divine, but out of human mercy and love.
Of course, overcoming evil by means of forgiveness and love is a central concept of Christianity. Yet, Jean and his family need remarkably little help from God: No doubt, they do pray hard for divine help, but they are most successful when they act themselves in human, pitiful, and in particular in courageous ways. They prevent tragedies when they overcome their pride and fear, they find help when run they for it, they save lives when they put their own life at stake, they find love when they save their enemies.
In Christian tradition, even more than jealousy, the origin of sin is alienation from God, the decision of Woman and Man to live their own life, to gain knowledge by themselves, not to respect the limits that God set them. Ultimately, that's why only God can save them in the end. But in this film, people save themselves by overcoming their own weaknesses and finding their own strength, compassion and love.
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