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BRIFF 2021

Review: Family


- Milo Rau adapts his own play, about a typical middle-class family whose every member has decided to end their life

Review: Family
An Miller and Leonce and Louisa Peeters in Family

Milo Rau, a Swiss playwright, theatre director, journalist and filmmaker, as well as the former artistic director of the NTGent, transposes to the big screen the play he had created for that very theatre. Family, an adaptation unveiled last year at the Gent International Film Festival, is selected this year in the National Competition at the Brussels International Film Festival.

Septembre 2007. In the small town of Coulogne, a few kilometers away from Calais, a family commits suicide. An entire family. The father, the mother, and the two thirty-something children. Everything suggests that it was a collective suicide, starting with the long letter left behind, which begins with this terrible sentence that hints at a profound trouble: “We screwed things up too much… Sorry.” 

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Ten years later, Milo Rau decides to explore this inscrutable story by recreating the final evening of the Meesters family. Or rather, of a family. A real one, one that is still alive, formed by actors Filip Peeters and An Miller (both seen in the Flemish hit Loft [+see also:
film profile
, directed by Erik Van Looy, as well as in the successful series Salamander), and their two teenage daughters, Leonce and Louisa

The very much alive Peeters-Miller family does not have any suicidal inclinations. Well, that is not exactly true for Louisa, the eldest, who tells the story. While studying at boarding school, she broods, and contemplates ending her life. She does not act on it, but she would like to understand the gesture of this family, that is both so close and so far away from her. And so Milo Rau re-enacts the final evening of this family, their last supper, the last conversations, the final arrangements, the last everyday gestures before the ultimate and fatal one, which we can feel coming, convinced that we will be spared nothing.

The play, created in January 2020, was performed for a few weeks, before it was interrupted by lockdown. With the support of the NTGent, Milo Rau and the Peeters-Miller family decide to create a cinematic version of it. Milo Rau who, at the theatre, had used a video installation, simplifies the set up. Cinema allows him to scrutinise the faces more closely. At no moment is the theatrical structure concealed, it is in fact brazenly embraced, with a red curtain opening the film. We can hear the silences, as well as the soundscapes of the production that are played on stage — the recorded singing of birds, songs by Leonard Cohen or Rameaux. We see the sets, the frames, the costumes and accessories. But before long, theatrical artifice melts with the cinematic direction to offer a metaphorical echo chamber for the artistic experiment carried out by the Peeters-Miller family. Although we know nothing of the motivations of the Meesters, this family from Coulogne, the last supper of the Peeters-Miller family invites us to reflect on our place in the world. 

At a time when humanity has no choice but to admit that it has irremediably endangered its own means of survival, how to interpret this large-scale collective suicide? Wouldn’t it be wiser to orchestrate our own death, to make it more beautiful? Such questions are asked upfront or in a more subtle manner by Louisa, but also by her parents or her sister during heart-wrenching interior monologues. Although we learn to know them and their profound motivations, their existential angst always brings us back to the meaning of our own existence. 

Family was produced by Look@Leo and by the NTGent (Belgium). It is worth noting that Milo Rau has already shot and presented another film, The New Gospel [+see also:
film review
interview: Milo Rau
film profile
, selected in Giornate degli Autori at the Venice Film Festival last year.

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(Translated from French)

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