Cannes 2023 review: Il pleut dans la maison (Paloma Sermon-Daï)

Il pleut dans la maison is a confident debut by Sermon-Daï, whose craft and care for the subject should propel her to further interesting projects.”

Six years ago Belgian director Paloma Sermon-Daï premiered her graduation film, the short doc Makenzy about a boy and his sister spending an afternoon in town, at the prestigious Visions du Réel festival. After the feature-length documentary Petit Samedi, she now returns to Wallonia and the two protagonists of her student film for her feature debut Il pleut dans la maison, a title that can be taken both literally as well as figuratively. An intimate portrait of life in the poorer parts of Belgium’s southern half, so often the setting for films by Sermon-Daï’s compatriots the Dardenne brothers, this slice of social realism establishes the director as an emerging talent with an eye for detail and features two excellent central performances by the now almost-adult siblings.

Purdey (Purdey Lombet) and her younger brother Makenzy (Makenzy Lombet) live with their alcoholic mother in a ramshackle house that leaks during summer storms. The responsible Purdey, almost 18, can’t wait to move out of the house and away from the toxic home situation, and she plans to take Makenzy with her. Working a summer job as a cleaner at a local hotel, her plans are suddenly kicked into gear when the mother vanishes and leaves her and her brother to their own devices. Makenzy on the other hand has flunked his exams and will have to transfer to another school. He seems unbothered and far more interested in clowning around with his best friend Dono (Donovan Nizet), stealing bicycles (a nod to neo-realist classic The Bicycle Thieves perhaps?) and harassing rich kids from Brussels on their summer holidays. For both Purdey and Makenzy this may be their last summer of innocence, but if they want to survive in life they will need to grow up fast.

At first glance Il pleut dans la maison may look like the plethora of European social realist films that festivals like Cannes are inundated with, but closer inspection shows care and precision in the blocking and framing of most scenes. In particular the outdoor cinematography and the way it uses natural lighting perfectly captures the laziness of the sweltering summer, perhaps the last summer Purdey and to a lesser extent Makenzy can afford to be lazy. Both siblings feel at ease in these surroundings, which makes their performances natural to a level rarely seen. Purdey Lombet in particular is a true find who will hopefully pursue a career in acting after this debut feature (not counting Sermon-Daï’s short).

Sermon-Daï’s examination of the impoverished Wallonia outside of Brussels is perhaps too quiet for its own good and at times threatens to meander a little. The character of Youssef, Purdey’s boyfriend, is a bit of a misfire: making him a serious boy who is bound for university is a welcome departure from the way youngsters of North African descent are often portrayed in European cinema, so the intention is definitely positive, but turning him into a condescending bully when it comes to Purdey’s life aspirations is definitely a mistake. Despite these flaws, Il pleut dans la maison is a confident debut by Sermon-Daï, whose craft and care for the subject should propel her to further interesting projects. It is too soon to state that the Dardennes have a worthy Wallonian successor, but Il pleut dans la maison is a promising start.