Movie: I've often heard the saying that the important thing in life is family. Having suffered through a number of family members that drove me up a wall, I've long wondered if perhaps the saying was much longer at one time or if someone dropped the ball by recording it incorrectly. Still, whatever problems I've faced at the hands of relatives over the years, they were tame compared to those faced by the two families featured in the fictional account provided in Familia, the latest movie by director Lousie Archambault via the Film Movement Series. The movie looks primarily at two life long friends, Michele and Janine, and their daughters, Marguerite and Gabrielle, as they face an assortment of problems that derive as much from their own inertia as the programming they received by their own parents. Archambault does a decent job of exploring some of the related issues, although this was a movie best suited for the film festivals over mass distribution.
Michele started off the movie by squabbling with her boyfriend, resulting in her slipping and cutting her head a little. He doesn't like her irresponsible attitudes and gambling addiction while she isn't too keen on his desire to control her. She's out of work, divorced, and has a teenage daughter to care for but she's always just out of reach of hitting it big so she continues her lifestyle, refusing to accept responsibility for all that has gone wrong in her life. Her instability with relationships can be tracked back to the life she's led and she finds it all too easy to run away from problems rather than face them headfirst. Her daughter is headstrong and disobedient, finding little in life to hold her back from doing as she pleases, certainly not her mother.
Janine, on the other hand, seeks stability over all else, denying what she knows to be the case with her cheating husband in exchange for her reasonably comfortable life in the suburbs of a major metropolitan city in Canada. She works part time as an interior decorator though she doesn't need the money since her husband has a good job and takes care of her bills. On the surface at least, she has the golden lifestyle that Michele wishes she had, though she begins to crack around the edges as she stumbles across her husband's infidelity in a manner that even she can't reconcile with her dreamy image of her life.
The two meet up in present day when Michele makes up a lie that her boyfriend assaulted her; after years of abuse. This elicits the usual response where Janine takes her friend (and daughter) in for a short time, leading to a lot of conflict derived from the differences the two have in terms of parental styles, social mores, and genetics. Janine wants to do "the right thing" by her old friend and even employs her as an assistant to run errands, pick up furniture, and handle an assortment of busy work designed as much to give herself (Janine) a sense of power as anything else. The biggest conflicts come in when Michele takes advantage of the situation and when Marguerite starts to teach Gabrielle a host of dangerous and ill advised behaviors.
The slice of life style story shows that while the two ladies are worlds apart on casual glance, deeper down that are very much alike in many important ways. Their dealings with men have been equally disastrous and the inclusion for a time of Michele's mother into the picture provides a look at her own fate in terms of how badly things have worked out for her. The important angle of the story being how a lack of communication leads to a lot of situations that disconnect the various relationships from evolving, prospering, or even succeeding due to the inevitable clash of values that any stressful encounters seem to have.
The back cover put it like this: "Michele, a divorced aerobics instructor with a gambling addiction, loses her job and seeks refuge with a childhood friend, Janine, who lives in a seemingly comfortable middle-class suburban neighborhood. Michele's rebellious teenage daughter, Marguerite, and Janine's shy and reserved daughter, Gabrielle, become friends, leading to unforeseen tensions that force both generations to reassess their values. Familia explores the question of how value systems are passed on from mother to daughter and asks: Is it possible to avoid passing on to our children those traits that we despise in our parents?"
I'll be up front and tell you that while I found some of the ideas explored here moderately interesting, there were numerous barriers that limited my perceptions of what was going on and why certain issues were brought forth. Some of that was due to the language (largely French with some limited English and partial English language subtitles) and the rest appeared to be largely due to the fact that the movie was designed for women (not to mention the foreign country angle); a mystery to men on any level from my experience. That said, while the ultimate conclusions arrived at by director Lousie Archambault might be suspect and colored by the gender issues as she saw them, there was a lot going on in the minimalist setting of the suburban household that much of the movie took place in. I'm going to rate this one as a Rent It due to the interest factor of small indie movies on family relationships but like many darling hits on the film festival circuit, your mileage may vary significantly.
Picture: Familia was presented in a non-anamorphic widescreen color with an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 as shot by director Lousie Archambault last year. It was a very low budget movie but still seemed to manage looking better than average for this type of flick. The colors were muted but accurate, leaving me with the impression that the director was purposely trying to make life appear drab in some cases, and the amount of grain was directly proportional to the levels of lighting; the night scenes looking the worse. The DVD mastering was generally decent and did not seem to weaken the presentation at all, with no edge enhancement or compression artifacts in evidence.
Sound: The audio was presented in a 2.0 Dolby Digital French with some elements of English added in on occasion. There was no separation between the channels in regards to the vocals and the music was minimal; having little opportunity to enhance or otherwise impact the story. The stark nature of the audio track was less interesting then the visuals but the vocals were clearly heard and generally not a factor for the storyline.
Extras: As with all titles in the Film Movement Series, the best extra was the short film added in on the DVD. In this case, the film was Recycle a documentary on the day in the life of a recovering alcoholic Miguel Diaz in an LA slum. He goes about his day using what others discard, trying to restore balance to his own life externally just as he does internally. It only lasted a handful of minutes and might serve as food for thought on a longer, more detailed exploration of the subject but it was pretty intriguing nonetheless. There were also some trailers and biographies of the principles for those who care, with the DVD case sporting some background information on the second side.
Final Thoughts: Familia was a small film by director Lousie Archambault that tries to explain some of the problems families face as a result of poor communication with one another but waffles at times in regards to the reasoning of the alleged proposed thesis. Michele's freewheeling life confronting the rigid social mores of Janine's life provide more than a little room to consider modern life and it's impact on the generations of families seeking understanding, if not forgiveness. I don't pretend to understand all the nuances of the movie and it's message but as a character study of two ladies and their daughters, it was worth checking out.