Dir: Leopold Legrand | Sara Giraudeau, Benjamin Lavernhe, Damien Bonnard, Judith Chemla | France, Drama 92′
The desire for a child is an emotive hot potato that has recently seen a comedy treatment in Ninja Baby (2021) and a more romantic one in this summer’s Venice Film Festival crowd-pleaser The Children of Others (2022).
In The Sixth Child two couples from opposite sides of the social divide come together in an unusual arrangement. Franck (Damien Bonnard in fine form) is a skint scrap metal dealer living on a caravan site with his wife Meriem (Judith Chemla) and his five kids. A sixth child is on the way. Julien (Benjamin Lavernhe) and his wife Anna (Sara Giraudeau), both lawyers, cannot have children. A court case brings Franck into contact with Julien who saves him from prison, and in return the naive but likeable Franck suggests an arrangement that might suit both couples. Franck declares himself broke and offers the lawyer the baby, suggesting a simple adoption where Franck and Anna will bring up the child, rather than a full fledged legal one – a long, convoluted process and terribly stressful for everyone.
But once Anna befriends Merriem and sets eyes on the ultrasound of the baby she rather loses her critical and legal mind and becomes irrational, offering the God-fearing Franck and Merriem thousands of euros in cash – with a promise of more – nudging the arrangement into the bounds of human trafficking, and flying in the face of the law and her own professional status, as Julien later points out to her as emotions run high. They could both lose their jobs and end up in prison.
A film touching on such basic human drives is always going to be moving, especially for those affected by the issues, and this directorial debut from Leopold Legrand certainly is, although the strong premise, based on Alain Jaspard’s novel, is poorly served by an uneven and underdeveloped script that not only fails to grapple with the complexity of the issues at the film’s core but instead opts for sensationalism with the human trafficking angle shoehorned into the film’s confusing final act.
Sara Giraudeau’s Anna is the weakest character; purportedly a lawyer, she does nothing but mope around all day, and her attempts at closeness with the much more authentic Judith Chemla (Merriem) are unconvincing. Benjamin Lavernhe brings depth and sensitivity to his difficult role as the childless father. The Sixth Child is engaging and watchable as a tragedy where no one wins despite a seemingly ideal scenario. MT
THE SIXTH CHILD | ANTALYA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2022