Monday, June 5, 2017

Sad, funny, bizarre and off-kilter: Jiménez, Scherson and Zambra's take on FAMILY LIFE

Directed by Cristián Jiménez and Alicia Scherson (Ms Scherson is pictured below) and written by Alejandro Zambra, the new Chilean movie, FAMILY LIFE, proves equal parts oddball and fascinating. Never boring for an instant, often provocative and by its finale, leaving you (along with at least one of its characters) in a state of desolation, the movie offers up a highly unusual main character who is utterly irresponsible and sociopathic. And yet the movie itself is surprisingly light and airy, seeming to bubble along on the strength of its odd plot, the genuineness of its characters (all of whom are bizarrely believable), and the relatively strong writing and direction.

The script, from Señor Zambra, is full of sharp dialog that moves the plot along nicely while opening up the subjects -- responsibility, relationships, and that "family life" of the title -- that are of such interest to the filmmakers. Ms Scherson, a few years back, gave us another interesting "family" film, Il futuro, and she's back at it again with this new one -- which on one level is much more mainstream and yet also quietly refuses to pigeon-hole itself too easily. Señor Jiménez is responsible for the also oddball Chilean/Argentine film Bonsai (based on a novel by Zambra), and the resulting collaboration between these three artists turns out to be a productive one indeed.

The plot, on one level, could hardly be simpler: A family -- mom, pop and young daughter (above) -- must suddenly leave Chile for France for a few months, and when a caretaker for their apartment falls through, dad asks a rather distant relative, Martin, to live there and look after the place. The family barely knows this guy but they are willing to give him a chance.

What happens when the family departs and Martin moves in is quite, quite interesting -- utterly expected yet often not so, full of oddity that works because it is based on character rather than contrivance and exposes itself slowly and strangely. The actor who plays the lead -- Jorge Becker -- is just about perfectly cast. He's kind of cute but nothing spectacular, sports a nice full-frontal package, and is able to simultaneously express, while keeping a good part of this hidden, the bizarre personality -- full of fear, anger, hope and general unease -- of someone who has never properly grown up and yet inhabits the body of a man.

Martin cannot accept responsibility, and when a relationship blooms between him and a local young woman, he must resort to huge pretense to carry it off. How all this occurs, along with what results from it, is alternately amusing and disturbing because the object of Martin's affection (Gabriela Arancibia, above, in a lovely, intelligent, guileless performance) proves such a genuine and loving partner.

The movie refuses to allow us to take it too seriously -- we're not talking tragedy here -- and yet it works very well. We root for both leading characters, hoping against hope that Martin can somehow "come around." Sorry, this is nothing like your typical rom-com. The characterizations, however, are strong enough to surmount all else. You may not like what you are left with as Family Life closes, but you will certainly not be able to discount it out of hand.

From Monument Releasing and Cinema Tropical and running just 80 minutes, Family Life opens this Friday, June 9, for a one-week run in Chicago at the Gene Siskel Film Center, with openings in San Diego at the Digital Gym on Friday, June 23; at the Tower Theater here in Miami on Friday July 21; and at the Roxie Theater in San Francisco on Friday, July 28, followed by other U.S. cities. The film will be available on TVOD come August 1, and via Amazon Prime on September 1. So, really, you've no excuse to miss this one! 

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