The Sacred Family
First Run Features // Unrated // $24.95 // August 19, 2008
Review by Cameron McGaughy | posted September 3, 2008
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"Sometimes we're so asleep we don't really know what we're up to."
- Soledad

The Movie
Currently in its fifth season, the Global Lens Collection of films was initiated by The Global Film Initiative in 2003 to (in part) help expose North American audiences to films they likely wouldn't see otherwise--helping to expand cultural awareness and appreciation in the process.

Chile's The Sacred Family (Sagrada Familia)--a sexually charged story from 2005 that focuses on the sometimes cruel behavior in fractured relationships--is one of nine feature films from the 2007 set list. Young architect Marco (Néstor Cantillana)--his foot gimpy from a drunk driving accident--invites his drama-studying girlfriend Sofia (Patricia López) to the beach-front home of his parents Marco Sr. (Sergio Hernández) and Soledad (Coca Guazzini) for Easter weekend. Also visiting are Marco's friends Pedro (Juan Pablo Miranda) and Aldo (Mauricio Diocares), a gay couple that met taking civil law classes. Rounding out the cast is neighbor Rita (Macarena Teke), Marco's selectively mute childhood friend--one with a clear crush on him.

It takes only a few minutes for mother Soledad (who is showing signs of slight mental instability) to form a somewhat negative opinion of her son's opinionated, free-spirited lover ("She's not for him," she says of Sofia, who--like Marco Jr.--shuns Catholicism). But when a friend calls with news of a family emergency, Soledad heads to Santiago, leaving her husband and son without a mediator to cool their sometimes-rocky relationship. Meanwhile, Sophia proves to be an expert instigator, a passive-aggressive troublemaker who wastes no time questioning Marco's love and intelligence, all the while seeking attention and approval. She also relishes any chance to bad-mouth Rita behind her back ("Did the dumb one have fun, too?"), and has no issues playfully flirting with Marco Sr.

It's appropriate that Sofia finds inspiration in Ophelia, her Hamlet muse and the subject of her latest monologue. Sofia embraces madness, and spearheads a drug-induced night that gets the younger house guests increasingly horny ("I've become a hedonist...but being a hedonist is very provocative"). In the aftermath of that reckless night, more conflict arises between Pedro and Aldo, while an intense conversation between father and son--centering on religion and the pressure to live up to society's definition of success--signals the start of deeper conflict to come.

The Sacred Family is equal parts bitter and beautiful, jaded and hopeful. It's like a Neil LaBute film with a little heart. At its core, it strives to present the emotional challenges people face in their quest for love, happiness, faith and acceptance, issues often complicated by family, responsibility and commitment. "I try to establish rich relationships so as to make life worth living. Otherwise, everything is amorphous, like half-done," notes Marco Sr. "That's how people waste life. Freedom doesn't mean allowing yourself to do just anything." The film frequently addresses the idea of waiting--an option that doesn't end up being so passive, after all.

Cantillana may have the least flashy role, but he breathes heart and depth into a confused young man trying to find his path. And López is so real as she combines sweetness and evil into one demurely diabolic package--I've met people like her before, and they're frightening. Writer/director Sebastián Campos creates a highly engaging dialogue that creeps up on you as the film progresses. He also keeps you on edge, as uncomfortable as many of the characters--the movie is shot with handheld cameras that are frequently up close and personal with the film's fractured faces. You're not quite sure where things are headed, but I found myself increasingly invested in young Marco's happiness. And while I won't spoil any plot developments, I couldn't take my eyes off the screen during the last 25 minutes of this thought-provoking work.


Here comes the bad news: not only is the 1.85:1 widescreen transfer non-anamorphic, it's a pretty drab affair. I'm assuming a lot of the rough look is intentional, the lower quality and handheld cameras adding to the film's dark sense of realism. Still, it's not visually pretty: you'll see plenty of grain, noise and film specs, and the colors are dull. This is a very dark film, and many shots drown faces and images in black. Worst of all, there's an odd "telescope like" effect, with curved darkness surrounding the four corners. It's mild yet noticeable. Still, the image isn't so bad as to not enjoy the experience.

The mild 2.0 surround track is sedate, which suits the material fine. I never struggled to understand anything, but I was never impressed with any depth. Forced English subtitles are provided for the Spanish dialogue.

No extras of note--there's a .pdf discussion guide (featuring director's notes, a director bio and a profile of Chile) accessed via your computer, a Global Lens trailer and text summaries of other films in the collection.

Final Thoughts:
At once bitter and beautiful, jaded and hopeful, Chile's The Sacred Family puts the spotlight on a dysfunctional group of friends and family. It's a sexually charged work that is always thought-provoking, led by a young man's journey to find his way--and a highly intriguing final act. The weak transfer makes this tough to recommend as a library addition, but it's definitely worth a look. Rent It.

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