JWR Articles: Film/DVD - Familia (Director/Screenwriter: Louise Archambault) - September 9, 2005


4.5 4.5
102 min.

Reviewed for the 2005 Toronto International Film Festival
Chick flick extraordinaire

Louise Archambault’s première feature-length film is a breath of fresh air. All mothers, daughters and their admirers will be well-served by partaking of this relationship tour de force, which excels in capturing the reaction of its wide-ranging characters as they succumb to the “genetic heritage of our parents.”

Don’t be fooled by the frantic narrative pace of the opening act, the excellent cast and talented crew only wish to dispense with the required back-story before lingering deliciously over the spectacular “lifemares” that lie ahead.

Aerobics instructor and gambling addict Michèle (Sylvie Moreau, who only lacks the vacant stare of the obsessed to be sensational rather than merely great) folds her way out of a marriage and her steroid-selling fiancé’s bed/payroll, deciding to head for California with her reluctant/recalcitrant 14-year-old daughter Margot (Mylène St-Sauveur). The road trip begins unevenly with a truncated visit to Michèle’s mom (Micheline Lanctôt, brilliant in her demeanour and denial). “The family is the foundation,” opines her stepfather moments before cashing in on a cheap feel.

The next stop is the upscale digs of Janine (Macha Grenon, who grows into the role with simmering rage, even as her “perfect” world collapses)—a friend whose own family consists of a seldom-home husband and a barely teenage daughter Gaby (Juliette Gosselin).

The bulk of the film centres on the outwardly opposite mother/daughter units. The tensions of wealth versus self-inflicted destitution, blind fidelity and ravages of date rape finally explode into acrimony and accusation. The wayward pair are forced to hole up in a nearby relative-provided trashy trailer park—now farther than ever from the metaphorical rebirth in “The Golden State;” what could possibly be worse?

Eventually, Margot and Gaby reunite, sharing the common cause of parents that look but do not see their maturing reincarnations. From here on to the coda, Archambault excels—not so much in the storytelling, but in the rich emotional landscape that ebbs and flows all over the screen and unforgettably into our personal stream of consciousness.

The men are used mainly as set dressing, which adds extra depth to their lechery, lies and selfishness. (As the shameless Charles, Vincent Graton is more than up to the task, letting his visage speak the volumes his mouth never will.) Yet, the worse they act, the stronger the collective determination of the soiled quartet to thrash out their own differences before settling the accounts of their manipulators.

Anyone who has ever been disappointed in love will inwardly treasure one of the finest “revenge fucks” ever captured on film. This is where Archambault (aided immeasurably by André Turpin’s shot-selection savvy and Pierre Allard’s magnificently subtle design) slips into brilliance: once the “aha!” registers, the savoured moment soon dissipates into the awful reality of lives forever changed, rather than the too-common smugness of victory.

The delicacy of love and willful blindness for the good of the family will ring true with non-denialists who choose to hear the message. What better way, then, of closing the dance card than with a musical facsimile that only “Petit Fleur” can bring. JWR

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Director/Screenwriter - Louise Archambault
Producers - Luc Déry, Kim McCraw
Cinematography - André Turpin
Art Direction - Pierre Allard
Editor - Sophie Leblond
Original Music - Ramachandra Borcar
Further information, future screening/performance/exhibition dates,
purchase information, production sponsors:
Toronto International Film Festival
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