Tag Archives: family relationships

Cinema Verite (2011)

Add Cinema Verite to the list of worth-catching HBO films. This interesting, well-acted and thought-provoking film is based on the story behind the very first reality TV show, and after watching the film, I was surprised that I hadn’t heard the story of the Loud family–the subjects of a 1973 PBS documentary miniseries called An American Family. Attractive Santa Barbara based Pat (Diane Lane) and Bill Loud (Tim Robbins) along with their 5 children seem like perfect raw material to producer Craig Gilbert (James Gandolfini)–the man who had the creative idea to film an American family as entertainment–not a particularly easy sell according to Cinema Verite. Gilbert is directed towards the Louds by a mutual acquaintance, and when he pitches his idea of filming the Louds in their upscale Santa Barbara ranch style home, at first Pat is resistant but then folds and agrees to participate. The cameras move in and the action begins.

On one level, the Louds appear to be the perfect American family with a stay-at-home attractive mother, a hard-working Nixonite dad and 5 talented children, but under the surface everything isn’t as Disney as it first appears. Cinema Verite depicts Gilbert as being fully aware of the potential for cliff-hanging drama within the fractured family structure.

This 2011 film which runs to 86 minutes cannot, of course, do justice to all the drama contain in the 12 episodes that aired in 1973, so while some issues and events are given centre-stage, other aspects of the Loud family drama are given short shrift. Nonetheless, this is a very entertaining film which asks some relevant questions: is there such a thing as reality TV when participants are aware that cameras are recording their every word? Does the presence of cameras inevitably cause people to commit acts they wouldn’t otherwise? Do people get caught up in their own roles and, in essence, subconsciously write a script for the roles they are playing? Does a camera turned on the family dynamic cause more introspection? Finally, of course, there’s the question of whether or not the series subjects are exploited, and that’s covered in the film’s final scenes.

The Loud family saga explodes through Bill’s exposed infidelities with numerous women including one brainless wanna-be actress, and then there’s the oldest son, Lance (Thomas Dekker) who takes up residence at New York’s Chelsea Hotel, and becomes best friends with Candy Darling, Jackie Curtis and Holly Woodlawn before he decides to go and find himself in Paris. The film doesn’t emphasis the radical cultural impact that Lance’s homosexuality must have caused through the episodes weekly beamed into American living rooms. Lance Loud was the first openly gay person to appear on American television, and he basically comes ‘out’ during the course of the series. One scene depicts some of the nastiness he faced as a result of the programme.

Diane Lane as Pat Loud is as superb as ever, and she’s also a very sympathetic character–a woman who’s managed to submerge her suspicions about her husband’s infidelities until the cameras arrive. Cinema Verite argues that the Louds participation in the series caused the family to implode. Perhaps a meltdown would have occurred without the camera crew on hand, but there’s a very strong argument that at the very least the Loud family’s participation in the series hastened the family crisis.

From directors Shari Springer Berman & Robert Pulcini

Leave a comment

Filed under American

When Father was Away on Business (1985)

“Better Russian shit than American cake.”

I’m not fond of films that take the child’s point of view, but the Yugoslavian film, When Father Was Away on Business from director Emir Kusturica is excellent for its view of exactly how a child tries to make sense of the adult world set in a totalitarian state. It’s 1950, two years after Tito broke from the Soviet Union, and the film set in the Informbiro period covers two years in the life of Malik (Moreno D’E. Bartolli), the youngest son of married couple Mesa (Miki Manojlovic) and Sena (Mirjana Karanovic). Mesa, who is perpetually unfaithful during the course of the film, falls foul of his brother-in-law, Zijo (Mustafa Nadarevic) a communist party official. While Mesa’s crime is ostensibly an off-hand remark he makes about a cartoon, his real ‘crime’ is having an affair with Ankica (Mira Furlan), a woman who then becomes involved with Zijo. The personal matter between Mesa and Zijo is camouflaged as a problem for the state with Zijo misusing his power.  As part of the rehabilitation process, Mesa is bundled off as forced labour to a mine but Malik is told his father is ‘away on business.’

Malik, who turns out to be a great, stoic little kid by the way, is used to reading between the lines when it comes to negotiating the adult world. After all three generations of the family live in rather cramped quarters, and Malik, who’s a quiet child overhears things he’s not supposed to. For example, the father of his best friend was taken away “by men in leather coats,” and the family even holds a funeral with a empty coffin at one point. Malik learns that some things happen but are never discussed, and while he rolls with seemingly bizarre events, he doesn’t fully accept some of the lies he’s told.

Eventually Malik and his family move from Sarajevo to the remote wetland area of Zvornik in order for Mesa to undergo “resocialising,” and throughout the film, we see a number of family events: a wedding, a circumcision, and a funeral which display the culture which is inevitably  impacted by the totalitarian state. The film makes it clear that normal, robust family life is not suppressed by the totalitarian state but only complicated by it.

There are a couple of scenes in which Mesa is called in for questioning–once in Sarajevo and once in the remote area of Zvornik. Both times Mesa is questioned there’s rather interestingly no torture, but then again there’s no need for it as Mesa has already been judged by the bureaucratic powers. In both scenes circulating fans act as symbols of the totalitarian machine with the power to blow people’s lives apart. When Father was Away on Business is both an excellent and seminal film for its low-key portrayal of a difficult time in Yugoslavian history, and for the way in which the film adroitly depicts the interference of the totalitarian state in the lives of ordinary people. Mesa’s behaviour, after all, is a matter for his wife–not a concern of the state, and so ultimately the film shows how the abusive state interferes in private lives for the flimsiest of excuses. 

When Father Was Away on Business is an entry in Caroline and Richard’s Foreign Film Festival


1 Comment

Filed under Yugoslavia

C’est La Vie (1990)

In C’est La Vie (La Baule-les-Pins), it’s Lyon 1958, and it’s time for 8 year-old Sophie (Candice Le France) and 13-year-old Frédérique’s (Julie Bataille) annual holiday to Brittany. But this year, something’s wrong. The children’s father, Michel (Michael Berry) isn’t joining the family right away, and then the children’s attractive mother, Lena (Nathalie Baye) pulls a shabby bait-and-switch at the train station. She goes on to Paris alone while the girls are taken to Brittany in the company of their nanny, Odette (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi). The only one who seems happy with this arrangement is Lena, and she waves goodbye to her sobbing children. This holiday is going to be different. 

Poor Odette, who has two children of her own, has complete charge of Sophie and Frédérique. The rented house turns out to be a disappointment, and the children sensing, but not fully understanding, the implication of their parents’ separation, misbehave whenever they can. Luckily Lena’s sister Bella (Zabou Breitman), her husband Léon (Jean-Pierre Bacri) and their four children provide some stability and normalcy for their two cousins. Then Lena arrives to rescue Odette and it becomes clear that Lena has a lover, a much younger sculptor named Jean-Claude (Vincent Lindon). 

While the adults are supposed to provide structure and routine, we see how things begin to disintegrate once that fragile membrane of parental attention is removed. Bella and Léon’s large colourful family life is shown in contrast to the miserable marriage of Lena and Michel. Léon is one of those fathers who has a definite persona as a family man. He tries–even if he doesn’t always succeed, and he seems hardest on his eldest son, Daniel (Alexis Derlon). Both Bella and Léon try to remain neutral about Michel and Lena’s divorce until they’re finally forced to choose sides.

C’est La Vie does a marvellous job of showing the parallel world of the children in contrast to the world of adults. Just as the children have no clue about the impending divorce between Lena and Michel (until they overhear the news), the adults are largely excluded from the children’s world as they run amok and wage class warfare against Club Corvette–a club for paying child members which excludes them. While the adults are often clueless about the children’s escapades, Frédérique has an unsettling glimpse into adult relationships. The film shows the conflicts of the individual who must choose between desire and family responsibility, and we even see how animals are inevitably impacted by the vagaries and instability of adults.

Films which take a child’s view of adult problems are not always successful, but C’est la Vie hits just the right note of innocence and mischievousness, and all the characters are very well-drawn including the landlord, Ruffier (Didier Bénureau) who watches the shenanigans with barely veiled disgust and dismay. Director Diane Kurys presents this difficult summer with delicate sensitivity and more than a dash of humour. Anyway, C’est La Vie is a delightful film which keys into one of my pet theories that family problems are magnified by a holiday. Take family members out of their routine and throw them together, and if there are problems, a holiday will accentuate them. Perhaps this explains why I have a weakness for films that show people on holiday.

This post is part of Caroline’s and Richard’s World Cinema blogathon. Trust me, the film is much better than the DVD cover indicates.


Filed under France

Les Invités de Mon Père (2010)

Some militant acts are easier on the eye than others.”

I’m a die-hard fan of Fabrice Luchini, and I’ll watch any film in which he features. For that reason, I bought Les Invités de Mon Père, a 2010 film from director Anne Le Ny on a whim.

Can anyone beat French film when it comes to portraying the subtleties of family relationships? To me, that’s a rhetorical question. Les Invités de Mon Père depicts a three-generational family with a number of problems that are more or less swept under the rug under a crisis precipitates some ugly and honest confrontations. This really is a superb film, and for co-writers Anne Le Ny and Luc Béraud, the drama depicted here is so real to life, it rather uncannily mirrors a real-life situation I recently watched devolve. 

Les Invités de Mon Père is labelled as a comedy, and some of the comedy arises over the hypocrisy of attitudes towards immigration. While a light comic tone is maintained throughout, this is also very serious drama which examines the events that lead to a seismic shift in the moral decisions of some of its main characters. 

Lucien Paumelle (Michel Aumont) is an 80-year-old activist–a retired doctor who lives alone in his rent-controlled Paris apartment. He has two middle-aged children: Business lawyer Arnaud (Fabrice Luchini) and a daughter Dr. Babette Paumelle (Karin Viard). Arnaud, affluent and status-conscious, is married with children, and his relationship with his father is a little strained. Babette, on the other hand, has always been very close to her father, and in fact she followed her father into a medical career. She lives with her lump of a boyfriend, Rémy (Olivier Rabourdin) and is overworked treating poor disenfranchised patients.

Lucien announces to his family that he’s going commit a “militant act” by allowing some illegal immigrants to move into his apartment. Both of Lucien’s children are concerned about this decision–after all Lucien is an elderly man and this could potentially violate his apartment lease. Arnaud’s wife is also worried and in a moment of concern, she visits the immigration centre where Lucien volunteers and suggests that the immigrants who move into her father-in-law’s apartment should meet a certain criteria of suitability. 

A dinner party is arranged with Arnaud, his wife Karine (Valérie Benguigui) their children, and Babette and Rémy in attendance. They’ve dutifully gathered together a few bags of old discarded clothing to donate to the immigrant family they’re about to meet. To their shock and horror, Lucien’s houseguests are a svelte blonde Amazon from Moldovan named Tatiana (Veronica Novak) and her daughter, Sorina (Emma Siniavksi). Any idea that Lucien’s “militant” act  is motivated by charity is squashed permanently when he blithely lets slip that he married Tatiana a few days earlier.

At this point, the film follows Arnaud and Babette as they are faced with the dilemma of whether or not they should step in and interfere with their father’s relationship with Tatiana. Both Arnaud and Babette undergo personal crises as they question their moral obligations and their lives subsequently fall apart. Arnaud shifts from a sliver of glee that his dad has the hots for this peroxided blonde to confronting the truth about his poor relationship with his father. Babette, on the other hand, feels cheated as she sees her father’s apartment taken over & trashed, her mother’s possessions hidden away, and a small inheritance disappear. 

The question becomes at what point should steps be taken to intervene. Should Arnaud and Babette ignore their father’s behaviour? Have they the right to interfere? As the film plays out, just what is acceptable and what is unacceptable becomes a matter for moral debate. The film does an excellent job of showing how we may think that we act according to a certain moral code, but that circumstances can arise to test those beliefs. Both Arnaud and Babette find themselves horribly torn by conflicting moral beliefs while Arnaud’s wife, whose decisions are black and white and not coloured by familial relationships, has a much easier time deciding which moral path to take.

While all the actors deliver marvellous performances, both Fabrice Luchini as the materialistic Arnaud and Karin Viard as his sister Babette are spectacular. Arnaud goes through a range of emotions while he observes his father’s behaviour, and these emotions range from sly glee to cold, unemotional acceptance of his father’s decisions. Poor Arnaud is also under siege from his children who both approve of Lucien’s behaviour for different reasons. While Lucien digs in deeper with Tatiana, Babette, feeling rejected by her father undergoes a horrible identity crisis with life-changing, hilarious results.

For French film fans, Les Invités de Mon Père is a must-see, and it’s certainly a film that engages the viewer into one of those “what-would-I-do-under-the-same-circumstances” scenarios.


Filed under Fabrice Luchini, France