| August 26, 2007

Familia is one of the numerous international films offered by Filmmovement.com, a company that is tailor made for those of us who love film festivals but can never seem to get to one. Though you can buy titles individually, the service is really set up as a subscription, where each month they send you a DVD of a recent festival-acclaimed feature film. As a bonus, the DVDs also sometimes include a short as well.
The French language feature debut of writer/director Louise Archambault, who has won awards for her short films, Familia is one of Canada’s best 2005 films and soon to be available through Filmmovement.com. Our main character Mimi (Sylvie Moreau) has a gambling problem, and the movie documents her slide into the depths of addiction, the circle of destruction ever widening. But along the way, Archambault is equally interested in the dynamics between mothers and daughters, exploring Mimi’s relationship with her daughter as they first seek refuge with Mimi’s mother and then later with Mimi’s childhood friend, Janine (Macha Grenon).
Good men are hard to find in Familia‘s world. Janine discovers that her husband has a second family, and her revenge is devastating in its simplicity and audacity. Mimi’s stepfather uses her situation as a way to exact a price for his help. A teenaged boy brags about drugging girls’ drinks so that he can have sex with them. The glimmers of hope for men to be decent are few and far between and only that, glimmers.
In Mimi’s case, this is partly her own doing. The boyfriend she leaves at the beginning of the film seems genuinely concerned and possibly the best thing she has going, but she pushes him away and describes him to her unwitting friends as abusive. The implication is that she isn’t ready for a healthy relationship with men, even when a healthy man is available. Like the other female characters in the film, Mimi does not always make the best choices.
The performances are all exceptional, and the ending is near perfect. But the journey is grueling. Watching the film, I realized how difficult it is to witness a person self-destruct, even if for only 2 hours. The film is often uncomfortable, as we watch Mimi burn every bridge and reject every offer of real help. Her denial and manipulations are complete and disturbing. There is no magical redemption at the end of the film; we could believe that she has reached bottom and things will get better or we could assume that we’ve simply stopped at another way station on her descent. The cyclical nature of abuse and addiction comes through strongly, and it’s not a pretty picture.
Even the children in the film are already pretty scarred, though Mimi’s and Janine’s daughters form a bond that is simple and direct, devoid of the complications in their mothers’ friendship. But it’s naive to believe this childhood friendship will remain so pure.
The film exhibits a nice subtlety, such as the curtains Janine hangs in her husband’s den, and it allows the audience to make discoveries throughout. There are moments of humor, the bleak dark kind, and those buoy the film in small ways. I can truly say that I had no idea where this film was going–it was anything but predictable. There is a keen sense of living these women’s lives along with them, which may be why the discomfort is so palpable at times. You want Mimi and Janine to be happy, to get (or become) better, but you begin to feel the hopelessness of their situations, the ways in which they’re trapped and just how difficult it is to escape.
Familia is the kind of small, character-driven film that Hollywood rarely offers and that increasingly can only be found at film festivals or in international cinema. But unless you really watch the festival circuit to see what’s playing and what’s garnering attention, Familia is the kind of film you could easily miss. In that sense, Filmmovement.com is your own personal festival programmer. They bring the best of the festivals from all over the world and deliver them right to your door. Familia is just once example of the kinds of films you might receive. And it’s a great introduction.

About the Author:

Josef Steiff Joe Steiff would gladly spend his days and nights watching movies and TV with a little writing on the side. Oh, and teach at Columbia College in Chicago. And maybe play Mass Effect. But sleep gets in the way. He's made a few films. edited Popular Culture and Philosophy volumes on Battlestar Galactica, Anime, Manga and Sherlock Holmes for Open Court Books, wrote The Complete Idiot's Guide to Independent Filmmaking and is a co-author of Storytelling Across Worlds: Transmedia for Creatives and Producers.
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