A Parisian midwife takes a strange interest in her best friend’s baby in this slow-burn thriller

The Rapture

Source: Cannes International Film Festival

‘The Rapture’

Dir/scr: Iris Kaltenbäck. France. 2023. 98mins

Hafsia Herzi gives a consistently suspenseful, ever so slightly off-kilter performance as a Parisian midwife who takes a problematic interest in her best friend’s infant daughter after overseeing the birth. The Rapture (Le Ravissement) is the first feature from writer/director Iris Kaltenbäck, and suggests she’s a talent to watch. It’s also definitely a film where the less one knows the better, as viewers are gradually clued in to the identity of the man providing voice-over as he tries to piece together how the fallout from a one-night-stand lead to the witness stand. Making its bow in Critics Week, the film will be distributed in France by Diaphana.

The first feature from writer/director Iris Kaltenbäck suggests she’s a talent to watch

We learn in an initial, energetic sequence of information that Lydia (Herzi) has been living with her boyfriend for three years. She works hard as a hospital midwife and enjoys guiding women through labour and delivery. Then, on the night of the birthday celebrations for her best friend Salome (Nina Meurisse), Lydia is unceremoniously dumped, her partner leaving her for another woman. With Salome suspecting she should not drink alcohol at the party, and a subsequent pregnancy test revealing that she is pregnant, Lydia is swept up in happiness for Salome and her partner Jonathan (Younès Boucif), and never gets around to mentioning that she is now single.

But Lydia is so thrown by her ex-boyfriend’s betrayal that she immerses herself in lengthy shifts and spends the rest of her time wandering the streets or riding public transportation. One night, she falls asleep on a bus and is woken up by the driver, Milos (Alexis Manenti), at the terminal. As there are no more buses, the two of them end up talking in a café and then sleeping together at his place. They hit it off but Milos is not looking for a steady relationship — Lydia, however, imagines more.

Salomé has an exhaustingly difficult labor and, in a gripping scene, Lydia coaches her to push some more while others suggest calling in the doctor or performing a Cesarean section. There’s a real feeling that Lydia may be making poor decisions, but the little girl is born at last. A chance encounter with Milos in an elevator leads to a lie concerning the newborn, and the film then concerns itself with the question of whether Lydia is a born manipulator who has been passing for a productive member of society, or simply blurted out a spontaneous fib that led down an increasingly complex rabbit hole.

Manenti, who co-wrote the screenplay to Ladj Ly’s Les Miserables and so memorably played the agressive veteran cop in that gritty film convinces as a somewhat reserved regular guy of Serbian heritage on whom flawed information is sprung. Herzi’s balancing act also impresses, as one fears for what Lydia might do at several junctures.

The voice-over structure works very well as a way of sifting through the timeline of central characters’ thoughts and actions. Missed clue? Flawed explanation? Maybe. Maybe not. Frequent close-ups afford the opportunity to study faces and ask whether we’d have fared any better than Milos or Salomé under the same circumstances.

Production companies: MACT Productions, Marianne Productions

International sales: Be for Film, Pamela Leu pamela@beforfilms.com

Producers: Thierry de Clermont-Tonnerre, Alice Bloch

Cinematography: Marine Atlan  

Production design: Anna Le Mouël 

Editing: Suzana Pedro, Pierre Deschamps

Music: Alexandre de La Baume 

Main cast: Hafsia Herzi, Alexis Manenti, Nina Meurisse, Younès Boucif