Name: Nele Volbruck

Nationality: Estonia


"Family Life" by Alicia Scherson and Cristian Jimenez (CL)

KVIFF - Karlovy Vary International Film Festival 2017 - Horizons

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C. Photo Credit: Family Life ​(2017)

Most people dream of being more, whether they dare to admit it or not. More beautiful, more significant, attractive, mysterious. Perhaps filthy rich. You know, starting from tomorrow, this time for real. Family Life by accomplished filmmakers Alicia Scherson and Cristian Jimenez offers a glimpse of what happens when that desire actually becomes true.

Martin (Jorge Becker), an aimless man, suffering from melancholy of a break-up and the loss of his father, agrees to house sit for a distant relative for a couple of months. The hipsterish family life of Bruno (Cristian Caravajal), his clever wife Consuela (Blanca Lewin) and smart-ass daughter is not spotless, but reeks of nicety and comfort that Martin is missing so badly. In order to mask his loneliness, Martin takes the role of the landlord too far and fabricates a life not his own, sparking a romance with a single mother Pachi (Gabriela Arancibia), regrettably built on his web of lies.

The house is awesomely constructed and tastefully decorated in painstaking detail. It serves as an example of what people are expected to want from life according to the values of modern society. In fact, the film was shot in the actual home of the director Scherson. Stirs up envy, to be honest. Martin lends his eyes to the audience as a curious intruder peeking into a strange house. As if he was visiting a set of a spread in a decorating magazine.

This is also the main issue with the film. Trying to get conversely back to Martin’s head, we might discover there is not all that much to get into. Assuming the audience is ready to disregard hypothetical moral ambiguity, one does not have significant reason to be fervently against him. And that is the thing – there is also a lack of motivation to commiserate with him.

One can surely explain pragmatically why a person like Martin would engage in such actions, but it is not enough to fuel the emotional aspect of it. He is not introduced profoundly enough for us to cheer him on, leaving the viewers to nod and shrug, before moving on. Themes of loneliness, pursuit of love and contentment are universal, yet may seem trivial and vague, left without the support of a convincing and cordial story.

Family Life avoids getting too wistful with the help of different tools. Many scenes are framed with classical music from Beethoven or Bach for added dynamics. This maneuver has a buffoonish impact though, giving off the vibe of an intermission jingle during a half-assed open-air theatre farce that actors only participate in for the green. The use of heavy metal to underline the deepening tension later in the picture works much better.

The film takes a shot at poignancy, using dialogue sprinkled with one-liners. In the beginning, it comes off as artificial and forced, trying too hard to be quirky and fun-loving, but the funny parts manage to work out just right later on. More so in the details than conversations.

Middle third is less focused on text, and consists mainly of raunchy sex scenes. Having occupied the house, the liberated pair, bursting with joie de vivre, is enjoying the illusory picture perfect life. It is already clear from the first sessions though, no need for reruns. The pillow talk, actually quite amusing, was the last drop for some to leave the cinema. 

Despite the film’s shortcomings, it is worth stressing that the actors’ performances are enjoyable, genuine and warm. Especially Blanca Lewin Gabriela Arancibia.

Family Life fails to live up to the potential of being wholesome and warm-hearted. Based on Alejandro Zambra’s short story, it contours only the outlines of interesting characters, but keeps many doors unopened.

While alluring at first glance, Family Life feels like skimming through a posh Instagram feed: occasional „down to earth“ goofy pics, some sponsored content and I’m-not-a-model-the-camera-just-went-off images trying their best to appear casual. No grief in closing the photo gallery. Ironically enough, the audience just needs more.

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