Family Film: A gripping study of a family in crisis
by Martin Kudláč
- The sophomore feature by one of the most promising Czech filmmakers, screened at this year’s CinEast in Luxembourg, is a formally daring movie
Promising talent Olmo Omerzu came into the spotlight after his first outing and graduation film lasting 65 minutes, A Night Too Young [+see also:
interview: Jiří Konečný
film profile], was picked for the Berlinale Forum in 2012. The Slovenian-born, FAMU-educated filmmaker showcased his international potential through a tale of two boys who must face up to their adolescence too soon, in the presence of frivolous adults. This union of talent and potential has resulted in his ambitious and eagerly awaited sophomore feature, Family Film [+see also:
interview: Olmo Omerzu
film profile], which also sees the involvement of five countries. Omerzu doesn’t fall short of the expectations piled upon him as he attempts to pin Czech cinema on the world map. After world-premiering at San Sebastián, the film has so far been picked for such festivals as Cottbus and Tokyo, and is now screening at CinEast in Luxembourg.
The film’s title encompasses the genre, the setting for the story and the theme all in one; it tells the story of a Czech family that enjoys a higher social status than the average middle-class family. Their spacious yet pragmatically furnished Prague apartment serves as the backdrop for most of the scenes. The dominance given to this one space, this central stage, testifies to the filmmaker’s self-confidence, as well as to the trust he placed in his actors as they brought the script to life. He did not misjudge on either count.
The mother and father leave their children, a high-school pupil and a university student, at home alone when they sail off on an exotic holiday before Christmas. They continue to keep an eye on their kids via the occasional video call, and everything seems to be going well until the son’s absence from school gets to be problematic and sparks a minor family crisis. Viewers are left to fathom the motive themselves and soon bear witness to another difficult situation after a loss of contact with the parents. A member of the family then steps in to take care of both problems.
The complications eventually erupt into a full-blown crisis. However, due to its low-key plot development, the film never breaks into melodrama, despite the fact that the opportunities keep presenting themselves. Right from the opening shot, the tense events are examined with a sense of cold detachment, providing a study of group dynamics that is similar to the director’s debut. The added element of distance does not prevent it from telling a captivating story, in spite of the slightly different pacing.
Omerzu and co-writer Nebojša Pop-Tasić’s inventive approach to a familiar story and its form is an additional element that adds another piece to the mosaic of the movie’s success. The young filmmaker really pushes the envelope, completely abandoning the events in the apartment to follow the family dog, Ottik, and his Robinsonade. The documentary feel comes to full fruition as we track the animal during his dramatically timed survivalist intermezzo, which doubles as a surrogate parable that adds to the captivating and asymmetrical plot structure.
The rifts in the structure do not detract from the overall final product. On the contrary, these intentional imbalances strengthen the impact of this formally daring effort and Omerzu’s reputation as a mature filmmaker.
The project was produced by Endorfilm (Czech Republic) and co-produced by 42Film (Germany), Arsmedia (Slovenia), Rouge International (France), Punkchart Films (Slovakia) and Czech Television (Czech Republic), and was supported by Eurimages. The film also received support from the Czech State Cinematography Fund, the Slovak Audiovisual Fund, the Slovenian Film Center, MDM Mitteldeutsche Medienförderung and the MEDIA Programme. Cercamon handles the international sales.