You can’t choose your family, by Sara Darling
We have been bamboozled with teenage girl coming-of-age movies, so what’s so special
about this one?
La Mif (French slang for the family) is centred around a residential home for at-risk
teenagers in Geneva, and features a non-professional cast consisting of actual residents
and staff- hand-picked by writer and director Fred Baillif (himself a former social worker).
Exploring the lives and relationships behind the closed doors of a care home is an intriguing
and complicated subject and this film does not pretend to glamourise the problems which
arise for any teenage girls; these girls even more so, as they have their own personal
baggage and standards, and are certainly not universally mature or interdependent.
Exposing truths that are sometimes painful to watch, the film, just short of two hours,
scrutinises the residents’ stories giving them a platform for both the bright and murky
aspects of their characters.
Sexual desire is rife amongst the teenagers, and the film opens starkly with one of the
residents being removed from the home by the police. Sexual relationships are banned in
the home, and this girl who is exploring her sexuality has broken the law as she is found in
bed with a 14-year-old boy. This sets the pace for the makeshift family, mothered by Lora
(Claudia Grob) who is the manager of the home, as she has to act as a bridge between
these pent up girls and all they do wrong, and the authorities, whilst she has her own silent
cross to bear.
It’s not an easy watch, as teenage hormones, desires, and the desire to break free are
mashed-up with clashing personalities who have to come to terms with why they have
been neglected in the first place, and ended up with this makeshift family which is at the
command of its all-powerful board members.
As with any ‘sisters’ the teenage girls ranging from 14 to 18 are maturing at different rates,
and have different sexual experiences, desires and mental development which is exposed
in their hostile interactions with one another. This is counterbalanced by some moving
scenes that display a deep binding connection as they confess to each other their internal
torment, fears and angst.
Even though care homes are necessary, this film positions the boardroom hierarchy as living
in the past. Useful as a backdrop to expose the intricate bond for the girls who live there, it
showcases the battleground of the real and authentic dramas which take place, and begs
the question, is it a film about the girls, or is it about bureaucracy?
Many of the girls come from a background of sexual abuse which emerges throughout the
the course of the film; and an underlying current, there is a crackling tension of personalities who
threaten to explode. The closer the group gets, trigger words, insults and trust is pushed to
the limits resulting in scraps, suicidal thoughts and self-harm, with the carers and even Lora
being used as scapegoats.
Each action is sequential and affects the entire home, and the sacred bond is constantly
being pushed to its limits, and at times is broken causing mayhem. Baillif has carefully
produced the story so that each of the girls have their own autonomous story, with no one
person shining more than anyone else, and the result is a bleak but undeniably fresh insight
into the representation of young people coming of age under the responsibility of residential
care. It could be compared to Lord of the Flies where only the toughest survive, but we are
left with no forward planning as to what happens next.