Following its Berlin Film Festival premiere last year, Swiss director Fred Baillif’s third fiction feature hits UK screens this week. Following a group of teenage girls, La Mif is a nuanced and moving study of life in a care home in Geneva. No single performer – largely non-professional actors – in the piece stands above the rest. Rather, the cast work in unison to give a singular, outstanding ensemble performance.
Structured in a series of overlapping chapters, La Mif moves through the lives of each of the girls – Précieuse (Joyce Esther Ndayisenga), Justine (Charlie Areddy), Alison (Amélie Tonsi), Caroline (Amadine Golay), Tamra (Sara Tulu) – as well their guardians, led by Lora (Claudia Grob). The abstract ideal of how an institution should be run and the reality on the ground informs the film’s key themes, where all too often compassion is stalled by abstract bureaucratic forces, while the messiness of human emotion blurs and confounds what is in the best interests of Lora’s wards.
La Mif takes place over a series of days around an incident in which a seventeen year-old girl (Anaïs Uldry) is caught having sex with an underage boy. This leads to Lora, who is on a leave of absence, abruptly returning to the home to take the flak for what the home’s owners see as ‘slack’ management practices. The plot loops back on itself to gradually reveal more of the context around this incident and we see the same events playing out from different perspectives. This approach leads not to any particular revelation about the group, but gradually deepens our understanding and empathy for each individual.
Baillif’s handheld camera prioritises immediacy over composition; his nonlinear editing is the film’s most substantial stylistic flourish. Realism is the focus here, while the film’s visual unfussiness avoids sentimentalising its subjects, elevating character and authenticity above aesthetics. La Mif’s characters will be startlingly familiar to anyone who has ever worked or lived with teenagers. Their volatility, their rage, and their disarming compassion and kindness are captured with an unvarnished authenticity of experience that is impossible to fake. It’s hardly surprising, given Baillif based the film on his past experiences as a social worker.
The result is an honest document that humanises the Swiss care system as much as it demystifies. La Mif refuses to proselytise on the moral character of its subjects; Lora’s terrible confession to the girls at the film’s climax is played not for tabloid revelation, but as a final expression of the flaws inherent in ourselves and the systems we depend on to protect us.