Un Air De Famille

On the face of things, Un Air De Famille is just another dysfunctional-family movie, but squirming beneath the film's surface is a twisted tale of almost pathological control. For the follow-up to his well-received When The Cat's Away, Cédric Klapisch trades the winding alleyways of a vast and hectic Paris for a tiny bar in which he traps three grown, bitter siblings (businessman Wladimir Yordanoff, black sheep Agnès Jaoui, and barkeep Jean-Pierre Bacri) with their mother (Claire Maurier) in a situation worthy of Buñuel. If it all seems a bit theatrical, that's because it's based on a successful French play written by two of the principal actors (Jaoui and Bacri), and many of the cast members also reprise their stage roles. Klapisch's claustrophobic direction heightens the tension, however: Flies buzz throughout the film, as if lingering over the corpse of this rotting family, and the incessant bickering, complaining, and arguing indicates that the blood ties binding these people are badly strained. But most intriguing and disturbing is the way the movie associates its most sympathetic characters (waiter Jean-Pierre Darroussin, Yordanoff's wife Catherine Frot) with the passive pets the family keeps. Bacri keeps a silent bird, some fish, and a paralyzed dog that's treated like a throw pillow, and the mother openly admits that her own dog loved her more than her family. Not insignificantly, Frot is given an ornate choker for her birthday and mistakes it for a dog collar, and Darroussin seems to be kept around the quiet bar mostly for companionship. Perhaps the reason the relatives are so often at each other's throats is that they have trouble dealing with the natural, volatile dynamics of a family unit, as opposed to the undying devotion and passive acceptance of pets. Un Air De Famille (A Family Resemblance) is filled with these subtle observations and others, so if the film isn't particularly fun (or funny), it is pretty interesting, almost in spite of its conventional execution.

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