Two days after director Joachim Lafosse realized his wife was pregnant with their first child, he chose the topic of his next film: infanticide.
He decided to chronicle what caused a real-life Belgian mother to murder her five children with a butcher knife.
But instead of painting the portrait of a monster, Lafosse dove into the woman's descent into deep post-natal depression.
"I began to read and watch the news, and the journalists begin to talk about 'the monster.' For me, you don't have a monster in this story," a thickly accented Lafosse told the audience at a showing Tuesday night of the resulting film, "Our Children," part of TheWrap's Awards Screening Series.
Indeed, in "Our Children," the media's monster comes across not as a bloodthirsty beast but a beaten-down woman — defeated and devastated by her own dire circumstances.
With a script by "Rust & Bone" screenwriter Thomas Bidegain and Matthieu Reynaert, "Our Children" is Belgium's Oscar entry in the foreign film category this year.
In it, Lafosse turns his focus from the crime to the relationship between Lhermitte (played by Emilie Dequenne), her husband (played by Tahar Rahim) and his surrogate father — an authoritarian doctor played Niels Arestrup with whom the couple lived.
We see how the woman struggled as the two men colluded against her to assert control over Lhermitte's three little girls and their brother. (The film cuts down the real-life Lhermitte's little victims from five to four.)
And Lafosse spares the gore — something audience members thanked him for in the Q&A with TheWrap's Awards Editor Steve Pond that followed the screening.
"For me, it was disgusting or something vulgar if we shoot the crime of the children when we see the trial of this woman, the real one," Lafosse said, speaking of Lhermitte's actual 2007 trial.
"After three days the jury saw the image of the crime. We felt it with a microscope, and at this point the jury stopped to think about how it was possible and this woman goes to prison for all of her life."
He compared the desensitization of witnessing the crime to seeing a car crash. After two or three days, he said, the trauma of seeing that gore sets in. "If I show you the crime, you have a trauma, and you have to think about what you see," Lafosse said.
The director said he tried to channel Alfred Hitchcock's ability to create a subjective experience for each viewer — something he said European cinema, more so than Hollywood, accomplishes.
"If you ask all of the audience what they see when they watch 'Spider-Man,' for all you have the same story," he said. "If you ask an audience of my movie, you have 100 different stories."
Lafosse said the score of the film was also important in getting his point across. He found himself particularly drawn to baroque music.
"It's something more than psychological, you're something more spiritual," he said. "With this sort of tragedy, you're obliged to be spiritual."
Then, still seated in a fold-out director's chair, he raised his hand to his chest.
"Not here," he said, then thrust his hand above his head to indicate a higher level. "There."