Narrated from the perspective of former male lover Milos (Alexis Manenti), this 99-minute French drama follows the footsteps of the tragic, lonely and manipulative Lydia (Hafsia Herzi). The young woman works as a midwife. Her three-year partner Julien leaves her on the same day that her best (and seemingly only) friend Salome (Nina Meurisse), whom she’s known since adolescence, finds out she’s pregnant. Lydia can barely conceal her disappointment. “Aren’t you happy for me?”, the mother-to-be challenges her. “Give it time for the news to sink in”, she jealous friend retorts. The narrator Milos explains that the relationship between the two women is toxic, perhaps symbiotic: “they connected by an invisible tube, and they can never be happy at the same time”. He also describes giving evidence in court, thereby foreshadowing that this story will have a tragic closure.
Lydia supports the unsuspecting Salome throughout her pregnancy. She provides her friend with everything she needs: ultrasounds, advice and emotional comfort. She is also in charge of delivery, in the movie’s most excruciating scene. The mother is in intense pain, the baby’s heartbeat is nearly gone, the assistants insisting that Salome should have a c-section. Father-to-be Jonathan (Younes Boucif) holds his partner’s hand throughout the ordeal, and they are both confident in Lydia’s skills and devotion. Despite the traumatic events, the baby survives, and the relationship between the old friends remains intact. In fact, Salome is so trusting of her friend that she allows Lydia to choose the name of the baby girl: Esmee. It means “the loved one”, she explains.
The seemingly loyal friend has no shortage of love to give. Naturally, she becomes Esmee’s nanny. Nothing too unusual there. Until one day Lydia accidentally bumps into Milos on the hospital elevator while holding the esteemed Esmee on her arms. That’s our narrator, a Serbian bus driver (or “operator”, as he prefers being called) with whom Lydia had a one-night stand immediately after Julien broke up with her and Salome got pregnant. He too dumped her, leaving the forsaken woman platonically in love. So she decides to pretend that she’s the mother of the baby and… lo and hehold… and that Esmee is the product of the only time they had sex. She is aided by the fact that Esmee is of mixed race (Salome is white, while Jonathan is of Arab background), making it easier to argue that the baby is their own (Milos is white, while Lydia is French-Algerian). She even takes a DNA paternity test
Now caught up in a network of lies involving her best friend and the man with whom she’s obsessed, Lydia crafts an artificial world in which she can enjoy the short and intense moments of joy (the titular “rapture”) with “her” daughter and partner. She has to do that without arousing her best friend and her husband’s suspicion. This is a mammoth task, and it can only be achieved during a short period of time. Audiences are left guessing: when soon will fake mother Lydia get caught? Will she resort to Draconian measures in order to preserve the precarious bubble of happiness? Is she in court for child abduction, for homicide, or something else? The look in Lydia’s eyes oscillates between loving and psychotic, in a convincingly ambiguous performance by Herzi. Maybe after all, she will allow sanity to prevail?
The script is impeccably concise and clear. This is particularly difficult for a story partly told in voice-over, by a someone that eventually becomes an integral part of the plot. Milos’s transition from narrator to character feels natural and smooth. The small twists and turns keep audiences tense for the wellbeing of the baby, while also allowing for some empathy for the dysfunctional and needy protagonist. She is, after all, a twice rejected young woman who has devoted her life to helping others to become mothers. Plus, she swallowed her own resentment in order to support her best friend. Doesn’t she too deserve a little bit of family joy, even if that’s stolen?
The Rapture is a suspenseful and yet plausible film, and precisely for that reason it’s so effective and indeed enrapturing. I kept waiting for the “based on a real story” card at the end, which never materialised. Maybe that’s for the best. Sometimes it’s best if art does not imitate life.
The Rapture shows at the 41st Turin International Film Festival. It premiered earlier this year at the 62nd Critics’ Week of Cannes, earlier this year.