Culver City Observer -

Family Drama


November 17, 2016

Anything’s possible with families today. Yet viewed with antediluvian wisdom, it's the way it was; la plus ça change.

What's up with families was a recurring theme throughout the American Film Institute Film Festival. Midst the usual filmfest mix of causy, gender, and the visually poetic, it was all about the family you had, have, and the varieties you might have.

In the candy store of treasures at AFI this year, The Comedian was delicious. Robert de Niro is superb as a nasty, filth-spewing comic, aging, yet still doing quite funny stand-up in shabby little clubs. He makes it clear that he's the last person to want a family. Yet he's sweet with his brother (Danny deVito) and his niece; and much less sweet, pained even, with an adoring public still convinced he's the character he played in a long-ago hit sitcom.

De Niro can't stop doing stand-up at the food bank , stand-up at the old folks home; he even does stand-up as the price he's asked to pay to get a woman into bed.

Though not seeking family De Niro unintentionally winds up with one, yielding peace and mirth to his hurting psyche. His droll toast to the bride at his niece's wedding is hilarious. Danny deVito overflows with family warmth; how he ever got married to his uber-sour wife goes unexplained.

Stellar cast: Leslie Mann, Cloris Leachman, Harvey Keitel, Edie Falco, Charles Grodin, and Patti LuPone, as deVito's baiting, seething wife.

Layla M. is sweet, 18, and ready to be radicalized. Living with her middle class Moroccan family in Amsterdam, her rebellion against the wishes of her rug-shop-owner father takes the form of her increasing commitment to Islam. Not a revolutionary herself, she falls for a cute guy seriously studying the Qur'an. How this lovely young woman goes from innocently playing soccer in Amsterdam to jihadist training camps in Jordan is an intriguing story yielding insight into today's terrorists. Her relationship to her father, mother, and siblings can't win over the appeal of independence; she doesn't want their values or expectations. This film gives insights into Muslim women, and the counterproductive effects of Islamophobia. In the end, it may not be the family you seek, yet it's comfort of the family that's eternal.

The tragedy of loving your family, yet not being able to communicate it, is the family angst in It's Only The End Of The World. This film won the Gran Prix at Cannes, and is Canada's hope for Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. Dark and beautifully photographed, made in 35mm, it spotlights what might happen at many family get-togethers (not like your own Thanksgiving or Christmas dinners, right)?

There's one marvelously true moment in an embrace between mother and son that will have to do, since the painful secrets, resentments, and expectations of family can oh, cause such pain.

Don't miss Gaspard Ulliel as the pivotal son Louis. I'm sure you'll be hearing more about this gentle, perceptive, and unbelievably good-looking actor.

Nathalie Baye and Marion Cotillard have a French salade with the story. While worth seeing for its Frenchness, I'd bet it applies to families everywhere. If you love your family - tell them. Please.

The big film Jackie is about family too - you know what it's about. This view of Jackie O takes place in the seven days after JFK's killing. While striking as Jacqueline Kennedy, Natalie Portman makes Jackie seem rather dimwitted and self-absorbed. Self-concerned, yes, understandable right after her husband's assassinated; yet the naive deer-in-the-headlights part is a bit hard to take. I got the feeling Jackie would be rolling in her grave at the tasteless way she's portrayed.

While Portman trained with a dialect coach to get Jackie's accent right, the sound level of her voice in the frequently shown clips of her famous White House tour just isn't there. The real Jackie spoke in a whisper; Portman speaks quietly, but doesn't whisper.

The film's done as an interview for Life Magazine at the family home in Hyannis Port; Jackie laments that she never gets a home that's hers to keep. Incredibly, this Kennedy-by-marriage and wife of a President worries about how she'll afford to send her children to college.

A word about the music: I hated it. Ever present ominous and lamenting chords, as over-the-top as the music in Jaws; at times it was overwhelmingly so loud it might have gotten a cast credit. To be fair, many in the world-premiere audience loved the music. Different strokes.

Go see it, and see for yourself a few lesser details about what went on with the family that week. Bobby is ever-present; we barely see Teddy and the Kennedy parents. Yet the grief and loss, seemingly for the White House history and residence as much as for JFK, is revealing as the U.S. readies for another President to move out of this great temporary house.

The Future Perfect is original and charming. A young Chinese woman tries to cope with the expectations and demands of her family in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The family wants her to work in the family laundry and to marry someone Chinese. Yet 18-year old Xiaobin creates her own ideas of family as she learns Spanish in a class she pays for with money she hides from earnings. As she begins to understand the conditional tense in Spanish, Xiaobin merges hypotheticals with reality as she spins out variations of her future.

If she marries her admirer Vijay, she would marry in India and go to see the Taj Mahal? If she wouldn't work in the laundry and marry a Chinese, would she end up homeless, using dumpsters for food?

What would happen is conditioned on her views of family, and what they want from her. Her ideas grow more complex as her fluency in Spanish increases, to the surprise of her family.

The director, Nele Wohlatz, was looking for a story in Buenos Aires when she met Xiaobin Zhang, who had never acted before. Together, over the years, the two wove this story of family and independence.

If you love words and language, this not-too-long film would be a lot of fun.

What will happen to Nele Wohlatz? What will happen to Xiaobin? Together, director and actress form a new kind of family unit.

Is it the family you seek, or the family you have? Is it your expectations that deserve to be met - or theirs?

It's an issue both relevant and timeless.


©Carole Bell 2016 Carole Bell is a writer interested in everything.

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