It’s perhaps the position of ultimate trust – the nanny – but one that treads a fine line. Taking care of the children makes them almost a surrogate parent, yet they’re never quite a member of the family, always an employee, no matter how well they get on with their charges. Cinematically, they tend to fall into two camps – the ideal of Mary Poppins and the less so in The Hand That Rocks The Cradle – with little in the way of a halfway house. Louise (Karin Viard), the central figure in Lucie Borleteau’s Lullaby (ironically known in some other countries as Perfect Nanny), is everything her new employers could wish for.
Or so it seems. Chosen on the spot by Myriam (Leila Bekhti) at the end of an interview sequence that harks back to Shallow Grave, she’s the ideal choice – constantly available, glowing references and the eldest of the two children, Mila (Assaya da Silva), takes to her immediately. Myriam is desperate to go back to work after having two children: Mila is at school, but little Adam hasn’t reached toddler stage and needs constant attention. So a nanny like Louise, who goes above and beyond the call, makes sure the house is clean, has dinner on the table when Myriam and husband Paul (Antoine Reinartz) come home and even watches over the children late into the night so that the couple can have nights out – well, she’s like gold dust. But, while the pair are absorbed in their careers, cracks are beginning to show in Louise’s behaviour and she’s becoming increasingly possessive of the children.
What sounds like a thriller is actually closer to a drama, one that slowly drip feeds the evidence of Louise’s troubled mind to the audience while concealing it for much longer from the parents, so that our sympathies are with the nanny, despite her actions. And they’re enhanced by the fact that her employers are so preoccupied with their careers that their children take second place – so much so that, when it’s Mila’s birthday, it’s Louise who organises and runs the little girl’s party, while her mother looks in briefly, shows a flicker of guilty conscience and then returns to her laptop. Neither of the couple are especially likeable and the way in which they cruelly text each other about Louise right under her nose shows that, despite how they behave towards her, she is and will never be more than a servant.
That drip feed means this is also a film that gets under your skin almost imperceptibly and it’s helped massively by Karin Viard’s performance as the nanny, gradually declining before our very eyes. Borleteau creates some vivid images as well – one particularly effective one has Louise hallucinating that her shabby apartment has been invaded by squids – and the difference between the nanny’s own life and the one with the family is sharply drawn. The crucial thing, however, is that this isn’t an evil nanny, but a disturbed one, and we’re never left in any doubt of that.
The ending has shock value, but it’s not the climax the film deserves and, while our sympathies are always with Louise, it doesn’t prevent us from continually asking “why?” We never get an answer and this is a story in need of a more conclusive explanation to give the ending more clout. But Lullaby is satisfying in other ways, especially its gradual tip toe approach and Viard’s performance, both of which make it worth your time.
Thriller, Drama | Cert: 15 | StudioCanal | Digital and DVD, 6 April 2020 | Dir. Lucie Borleteau | Karin Viard, Leila Bekhti, Assaya da Silva, Antoine Reinartz.