Friday, 24 August 2012

In the Family

What’s this? An independent film with a strong realistic feel that has almost no handheld camera work? Didn’t Patrick Wang get the memo? Or is he a radical among radicals? I heard he even had to distribute the film himself. Whatever, Patrick, you have my deepest admiration for your guts, your camera work and for this amazing, if not perfect, film.

In the Family was written, directed and stars Wang in his first film. To go it alone and make such an accomplished 169-minute film the first time around is quite the feat. Wang plays Joey Williams, a thirty-something man who, at the start of the film, has a partner named Cody Hynes and a six-year-old son named Chip (son of Cody and his wife, who died in childbirth). It is obviously a very loving family environment, with apparent support from Cody’s extended family (Joey has none). (warning: minor spoiler alert) But early on, Cody is killed in a car accident and his sister finds Cody’s most recent will, which was written prior to his relationship with Joey. Thus the foundation for this tense, thoughtful and excruciatingly slow-paced film.

From the opening scene, I was reminded of Stellet Licht, Carlos Reygadas’ slow-paced film from 2007. The stories are very different, but the slow pace, the camera work, the lack of score, the emphasis on real sounds and the overall realistic feel are very similar. Halfway through In the Family, most people will assume it must soon be over (which is why this is not a film that could appeal to the masses - there were two others in the theatre last night and the film only lasted a week), but there is the equivalent of an entire wonderful film yet to come. It is obvious that Wang intentionally made the film very long and slow, providing details of daily life that most films don’t make time for. I don’t mind long or slow, so I could appreciate what Wang was doing, but I do think the film would not have suffered if it had maxed out at 150 minutes.

The acting was solid. There were times when I thought Wang was perfect for the lead role and times when I wondered. Joey is a likable but slightly quirky character and so one is never sure whether or not the odd acting style is a deliberate way of underscoring the realism in the film. The film as a whole is so understated that the brief scenes of passion are jolting. This, too, adds to the realism, which is the key to appreciating In the Family.

While I found the film engaging throughout, it is the last half that will stay with me and that makes In the Family such a profound, wise and humanizing film. It’s about how we communicate and how we work together to make the world a better place. I am going to allow In the Family to slide into that rare **** territory, but just barely. My mug is up.

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