Teenage siblings try to cope with their alcoholic mother in this arresting coming-of-age tale from Belgium

It's Raining In The House

Source: Heretic

‘It’s Raining In The House’

Dir/scr: Paloma Sermon-Dai. Belgium. 2022. 82mins

Teenage siblings attempt to navigate the challenges of a fractured home life and an uncertain future in Belgian director Paloma Sermon-Dai’s fiction feature debut. Combining a familiar ‘last summer’ coming-of-age story with a non-fiction sensibility to arresting affect, the filmmaker’s intimate visual style effectively draws the viewer into the sealed-off world of the troubled protagonists of this Cannes Critics Week title.

Combines a familiar ‘last summer’ coming-of-age story with a non-fiction sensibility to arresting affect

That distinctive look, together with two compelling central performances from real-life siblings Purdey and Makenzy Lombet (who featured in Sermon-Dai’s 2017 documentary short Makenzy, and use their own names here), should certainly help attract further attention to this quiet film, which has already been acquired for France by Condor.

As much about the location as its characters, the film plays out in Belgium’s Wallonia province – a hotspot for tourism, but rife with unemployment and poverty. While 17-year-old Purdey and her 15-year-old brother Makenzy (Mak for short), take frequent advantage of the local lake, splashing in its waters or relaxing on its shores, the area holds little else for them. Living in their grandmother’s old, leaky house — hence the film’s title — they are coming to the unsettling conclusion that their alcoholic, and frequently absent, mother (Louise Manteau) is unable to provide anything in the way of comfort or security. 

The same can be said for the ramshackle house, with its peeling ochre walls that suggest a once warm and happy home fading to ruin. Cinematographer Frederic Noirhomme contrasts the dark, crumbling interior with the scorching summer sunshine. Tight framing and oppressive internal lighting speaking to a domestic situation that is not a sanctuary but a millstone around the necks of these adolescents. Yet Makenzy remains emotionally attached to both the property and his mother, desperate for things to change yet unable to compete with her addiction.

As she approaches her 18th birthday and the supposed freedom of adulthood, Purdey finds herself having to choose between following her dreams of becoming a nurse, or a taking a menial cleaning job which will allow her to support herself and her brother. In reality, however, there is no choice; Purdey is necessarily mature beyond her years and will do what needs to be done for her family. Her well-off boyfriend Youssef (Amine Habidou) cannot understand why she does not have the world at her feet. But the drama of Sermon-Dai’s economical screenplay lies not in any railing against life’s injustices, but in the quiet acceptance and stoicism of those facing daily struggles.

Sermon-Dai previously won the Best Documentary Magritte award for 2020’s Petite Samedi which premiered in Berlin’s Forum and explored the relationship between her own mother and drug-addicted brother. A similar real-world tone informs It’s Raining In The House, helped by the casting of (excellent) sibling actors in the central roles and the resulting dynamic — at times caring, at others combative, but always shot through with tenderness. Craft choices also dig into the realism of the piece, with Sermon-Dai demonstrating a relaxed observational style.

As such, there is no score to speak of, rather an immersive, layered natural soundscape — rain on windows, distant thunder, flip-flops slapping on a dusty road. Editing, from Thijs Van Duffel, is fluid yet unhurried, cutting away at times of high emotion and lingering on seemingly innocuous moments which take on an increasing poignancy under the camera’s unflinching gaze. Purdey cleaning holiday apartment windows surrounded by the sounds of happy tourist families; Mackenzie holding back the tears as he plays video games, his clenched jaw highlighted by the TV’s ghostly blue glow. These moments not only expose the inner lives of these characters, but mark out Sermon-Dai as a filmmaker with a strong understanding of the medium. 

Production company: Michigan Films

International sales: Heretic info@heretic.gr

Producers: Sebastien Andres, Alice Lemaire

Cinematography: Frederic Noirhomme 

Production design: Ladys Oliveira Silva

Editing: Thijs Van Duffel

Main cast: Purdey Lombet, Makenzy Lombet, Donovan Nizet, Louise Manteau, Amine Habidou