DENNIS SCHWARTZ 
IS THERE ANY GOOD 
IN SAYING 
EVERYTHING ABOUT A MOVIE?

 
FAMILY RESEMBLANCES (UN AIR DE FAMILLE) (director: Cédric Klapisch; screenwriters: Jean-Pierre Bacri/Agnes Jaoui/Cédric Klapisch; cinematographer: Benoit Delhomme; editor: Francine Sandberg; cast: Jean-Pierre Bacri (Henri), Agnes Jaoui (Betty), Jean-Pierre Darroussin (Denis), Catherine Frot (Yolande), Claire Maurier (Mother), Wladimir Yordanoff (Philippe); Runtime: 110; Le Studio Canal Plus; 1996-France)

 
"It is directed by Cedric Klapisch, a former N.Y.U. film student."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This biting family drama hones in on the anxieties and turbulence a dysfunctional modern French family experiences, as they gather together in their family restaurant to celebrate a birthday. They end up probing each other, eventually uncovering what makes them unhappy.

Philippe (Wladimir Yordanoff) arrives for a family gathering at his brother Henri's (Bacri) modest Sleepy Dad's café, fresh from a two-minute television appearance which he has been very nervous about. Philippe wanted to make a good appearance since he represents his company. He, being ranked as the number 4 person in his company, takes this assignment as a sign that his company is very pleased with him and might be considering him for a promotion. Philippe is fishing around his other family members for compliments. What Philippe gets in response, is not quite what he wants to hear. His 30-year-old unmarried and motorcycle jacket wearing sister, Betty (Agnes Jaoui), tells him that he stuttered. His domineering mother (Claire Maurier) who adores him over the other children, tells him she didn't care for his tie. Philippe's simple but nice wife, Yo-Yo (Frot), who is celebrating her 35th birthday, agrees with his mother. Henri, who is considered the idiot of the family, didn't even watch the show but agrees with his sister. Denis (Jean-Pierre Darroussin), the self-effacing waiter, tells him that he was reading during the show. The waiter gets caught up in the family dramatics throughout their evening gathering, having a love interest in Betty.

It is directed by Cedric Klapisch, a former N.Y.U. film student, who has a knack for making films with wry observations regarding relationships. This realistic film is based on a play written by two of the actors, Ms. Jaoui and Jean-Pierre Bacri. In fact, this entire ensemble cast also acted in the play. The film takes place entirely in the restaurant Henri inherited from his father.

What is a constant of the story line is that the matriarch of the family is always nagging, saying it is normal to be doing what she is doing. She has turned her favorite son into this obnoxiously pampered child. He kisses ass in the business world, condescends to his siblings, and treats his gentle wife with contempt. The price of the mother's indiscretions in handling her children, is that the family members feel either slighted or neglected or spoiled. She explains Henri's dour disposition and lack of ambition away, with the ridiculous comment that she knew he would amount to nothing because he was a late walker. All this becomes tedious after a while, though I'm sure it accurately portrays how some bourgeoisie families are. What I was waiting to see happen was something momentous or inspiring, but that never really occurred.

The basic plot revolved around the problems the children have. Henri's wife left him; Philippe is too self-absorbed about his place in the business world to see what is happening in his marriage; and, Betty can't get into a decent relationship. Each is unable to relate to someone else in a loving manner. Henri's paralyzed dog (which was kept around as a decoration) was seen as a symbol of how the mother crippled the entire family. The only gleeful moment came when Yo-Yo drunkenly kicked off her shoes and danced a fast dance with Denis.

Nonetheless, this was a somewhat satisfying drama/comedy.

It is through small changes the characters undergo that the film succeeds best. And, isn't that the way it is in real life? This is a claustrophobic production, done in real time over the course of one evening. One scene, in particular, caught my fancy, when Yo-Yo was given her birthday presents, it was fun to see who gave her what. Betty, the disgruntled rebel, gave nothing. The mother gave the most horrible and insensitive gift you can to someone who is not a dog lover. She gave her a gift certificate to purchase another paralyzed dog. Yo-Yo, to her credit, couldn't feign delight. Her husband followed with his gift of a jeweled choker that she mistook as a choker for the dog. This was the funniest moment in the film, and it did seem to give the characters renewed wind to charge into the play's final moments.

REVIEWED ON 6/30/99             GRADE: C

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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