Friday, 12 June 2009

Un Air de Famille (1996)

I was quite certain I had viewed this French film previously, but couldn't quite remember it. However since it was written by and featured the husband-wife team of Agnes Jaoui and Jean-Pierre Bacri who were so very good in both "The Taste of Others" (2000) and "Look at Me" (2004), I was happy to give it another go.

The title translates as "Family Resemblances" and concerns the three children of an overbearing mother, who meet with their spouses each Friday evening for a family dinner. This night they are also celebrating the birthday of the uptight eldest son's wife, played brilliantly by Catherine Frot, and they meet up at the run-down bar/restaurant run by younger son Bacri whose wife has just walked out. Their sister, Jaoui, is a 30-year old slacker who may or may not be involved with Bacri's hangdog employee Jean-Pierre Darroussin. There are several flashbacks to their joyful childhood before they mother left their happy-go-lucky father (Bacri's restaurant is named 'The Sleepy Dad Cafe'), but they are as disfunctional a group nowadays as you could hope to meet.

The eldest son is still fussing about his two-minute TV appearance on local television that afternoon (he is 'Number 4' in a local IT firm) and is overly concerned with his superiors' reactions, especially since Jaoui has that afternoon given a mouthful to 'Number 2', nicknamed Benito (for Mussolini). It may be his wife's day to celebrate, but he is so full of himself that it is obvious that he has no time to treat her properly. Her face as she opens her presents and finds that the family has clubbed together to buy her a dog that she does not want is priceless to behold, especially since a paralyzed and senile pet of the beloved breed is present in a corner, named Caruso, because he 'used to sing'. Bacri, who is obviously not the brightest spark, is treated as a hopeless case by his mother and brother, who also dismiss Darroussin completely as a feckless servant. Jaoui in turn is so alienated from all of them that she seems to be living in some sort of parallel world.

The film is quite obviously based on a play and is only slightly opened out under Cedric Klapisch's direction, but it does not suffer for this as the family dynamics and quirky dialogue produce their own rewards. And goofy Darroussin's dance turn with a somewhat inebriated birthday-girl Frot is a wonder to behold.
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