|Un Air de Famille
Tolstoy opened his novel ANNA KARENINA with the (now clichéd)
sentence: "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy
in its own way." As if to prove this axiom, the writing team of Jean-Pierre
Bacri and Agnès Jaoui created the stage play UN AIR DE FAMILLE/FAMILY
MATTERS which has now been adapted in to a bittersweet comedy-drama
by Cédric Klapisch.
The plot is both simple and complex. Each week, a family gathers
on Friday to share a meal and catch up with one another. There's the
overbearing, highly-critical mother, her two sons, one clearly the favorite,
the other perhaps too much like his father, and her unmarried 30-year old
daughter. This gathering is supposed to be special, Philippe, the favored
one, appeared on television representing the high-tech company in which
he holds a position of importance. It is also his wife's birthday — so the
stage is set for a dual celebration.
But, there are things that have occurred that will eventually cause
the entire family to re-evaluate their lives. The daughter Betty also
happens to work for the same company and it a bit of bad timing
has chosen this day to tell off her boorish boss, jeopardizing her job in
the process. Henri, considered the foolish one for trying to preserve
his father's restaurant, discovers that his wife has picked that day
to leave him. Hovering around on the fringes is Denis, who works for
and boards with Henri. There are enough plot points here to fuel
Skillfully, Jaoui and Bacri abetted by Klapisch have distilled the
inherent conflicts in a familial unit — particularly the rivalries and
perceived hurts — and present them with ironic wit. There's truth in
what is said — sometimes brutally — other times through humor.
The emotional battles that erupt between parent and child, siblings,
husband and wife, all coalesce into an enjoyable film. The theatrical
roots of the piece are obvious, but Klapisch utilizes odd, fluid
camerawork that helps to "open up" the material. The growing tension
among the characters is leavened by humor, flies hitting a bug zapper,
the presence of Henri's crippled dog. The screenwriters, moreover,
provide every character with what Maxwell Anderson called "a moment
of realization" which, in turn, allows each actor at least one meaty scene.
The company of actors had performed the play for months before
filming and they function as a believable group. Heading the family is
Claire Maurier as the tactless mother. (Sharp-eyed cineastes may recall
the actress as Jean-Pierre Léaud's mother in François Truffaut's
classic THE 400 BLOWS.) Wladimir Yordanoff is well-cast as the
pompous Philippe while co-writer Bacri excels as the tortured Henri.
Jaoui delivers one of the strongest portrayals as the confrontational
Betty who finally comes to realize what her family has been doing to
her while the actors playing the two outsiders, Jean-Pierre Darroussin
(as Denis) and particularly Catherine Frot (providing much humor as
the seemingly dim-witted Yolande) also shine. Jointly, these actors
provide a fine time and make visiting with this family well worth the trip.
|© 2008 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.