Monday, 20 February 2012

'Everybody in Our Family' Berlinale (Forum) review:

Romanian filmmaker Radu Jude's sardonically titled 'The Happiest Girl in the World' was one of my favourite film's of 2010. A bitter little portrait of inter-generational discord as parents bickered with their wilful and moody daughter about the proper way to deal with a car she'd won in a soda promotion. They, knowing the value of money and the difficult reality of life, want to sell it and invest in property. The girl, understandably enough, wants to drive her mates around in it and have a fun, care-free summer. All of this is in the backdrop as the girl records a TV advert for the soda company in which she is forced to declare, with escalating levels of irony, that she is the "happiest, luckiest girl in the world".

With 'Happiest Girl' I loved not only Jude's patient, documentary like shooting style and the naturalistic performances of his actors, but also the fact that each character could madden or thrill you in equal measure. Each player in his film could be infuriatingly stubborn or entirely justified depending on your own viewpoint, with no sense of good guys or bad guys. Personally, I thought the girl was being selfish, but you could easily say the same of the parents. All of this is equally true of Jude's second feature 'Toata lumea din familia noastra' ('Everybody in Our Family') - which is every bit as brilliant, complex and darkly comic a family drama as his debut - but with added tension.

The film follows Marius (Serban Pavlu), a father who is visiting his ex-wife's house in order to take his daughter Sofia (Sofia Nicolaescu) on a pre-arranged day out to the beach. However when he arrives his ex-wife, Otilia (Mihaela Sirbu), is out and her new partner Aurel (Gabriel Spahiu) stops him from leaving with the child. The two men have a pathetic little fight which leaves Aurel injured and Sofia crying - and then Otilia gets home. She tells Marius his visit is over and threatens to curtail his visiting rights further in court. This sends Marius crazy and what happens next should have you on the edge of your seat, wondering if this well-meaning if idiotic chap is going to seriously hurt somebody.

From the opening shots of 30-something Marius in bed, surrounded by empty beer cans, with film posters on the wall and shelves full of DVDs, it's clear that he's an adult but not necessarily a grown-up. The same could be said for Aurel and Otilia, who never compromise even when it's in everyone's interests to do so. In fact arguably Sofia is better behaved - more moral, empathetic and understanding - than any of the adults in her life. At the beginning we see a short, highly confrontational scene between Marius and his parents which adds an interesting dimension - suggesting that we perhaps never grow up. Here we see the routes of his own temper and confrontational tendencies, but also observe, through their unhappiness at his short, infrequent visits, how a parents desire to be close to their child is a universal constant, even when they (paradoxically) can't stand each other.

'Everybody in Our Family' could obviously be seen as a call for increased father's rights (a hot contemporary issue), with the heartbreaking reality that Otilia could stop Marius from seeing his daughter at the forefront of the drama. Yet it's equally the story about how otherwise quite gentle people might suddenly snap if pushed too far. The fact that Marius' actions, born of increased distress, are only adding to the likelihood that he'll never see his daughter again creates a sense of deep, inevitable tragedy.

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