Spout Mavens Disc #1: Familia (2005)

Familia
Director: Louise Archambault // 2005, Canadian [DVD]

Cinema 4 Rating: 6


What I had been fearing most upon joining the Spout Mavens group happened the moment the package holding my first group screener DVD arrived in the mail. Though I try not to be a cover-judger, as I ripped apart the envelope, my heart sank as my eyes were greeted by the image of two mothers and their respective daughters, posing and smiling in a manner that would no doubt be undermined by their actions within the film itself. It was exactly the sort of cover to which, if I ever set foot in a video store again, I would not even give a full first glance, let alone a second one, on the assumption that there was no way I could ever relate personally to the idiots gracing it. This is not snobbishness on my part (though some drama-ridden idiots of the same ilk and manner would likely maintain it is), but merely personal choice.

I tend to avoid drama. I don't mean totally: I love the device itself, and you can't have suspense or mystery without it; it's not like I only like comedy in my films. What I don't embrace, both in my personal life and in most forms of media and genre (outside of Shakespeare, which is so stylized as to be its own identifiable genre), is blankly human drama. You might find a four-hour study of O'Neill-type alcoholism fascinating; I couldn't care less. I might enjoy the acting and production details, but after about twenty minutes of some douche complaining about how Daddy didn't love them enough and that's why they took up the bottle and smacked the wife around and touched their daughter and so on and so on and so on, ad nauseum ... well, I just want to reach through the screen and crack that bottle over their skull and rid the Earth of a blight upon its surface. Of all the things in which I hold the least interest in this world, tops would have to be The Human Condition, that group-ego construct that tries to make us believe the inane falsity that we are all connected together by some undeniable force of cosmic will specific to the human race only. Well, if there really were such a thing as that, we wouldn't have the need for places like MySpace or Facebook or Match.com or even Spout; you could just imagine the person to whom we most wish to connect and, somewhere across the Atlantic, a French schoolgirl would magically feel her skirt fly up...

Speaking of French schoolgirls, or rather, Canadian ones who speak French in Québec, Familia centers itself around two mothers who have a parental attentiveness range from radically different ends of the spectrum, but who have similar results regardless of what skills they employ: they are both shitty at raising their daughters.
Michèle is a gambling addict on the run from her steroid-selling boyfriend, to whom she owes a hell of a lot of money due to her propensity for bleeding cash at late-night poker games or pouring coins into cold-hearted slot machines. After being spurned for help by her own mother (her stepfather is more than willing to part with some bills -- for a price, of course), Michèle and her teenage daughter end up crashing at her old pal Janine's place, herself afflicted with her own pair of crushing addictions: a sheltering attitude toward her own daughter, whom she treats like a living baby doll (and who calls her "Hitler" behind her back), and a growing obsessiveness over the whereabouts of her wayward husband, whom she believes has taken a mistress while purportedly off on constant business trips.

It's hard to speak about most of the film without giving away some of the more shocking plot points, but it would not give away anything to say that the placid chick-flick surface embraced on the DVD cover is broken quickly and rudely by the nasty streak within the film. Incest, prostitution, adultery, internet porn, abortion, etc., etc. -- is there nothing these seemingly nice, normal people won't do to prove my initial point about the cover wrong? And while she looks like Melanie Griffith and Billy Idol had a baby that toppled over into a weed-whacker, I wouldn't mind living next door to Michele, because, really, there's almost nothing she won't do to ante up in that night's poker game. Desperation makes for content neighbors...

This is not a film about coming clean about one's addictions and then making a concentrated stab at rehabilitating oneself; the question is about what effect the sins of each mother will have on their respective daughters. (From the glimpse we get of the grandmothers of these characters, it could well be a sad future tale indeed, as it has clearly gone a couple generations already.) While there is a cursory attempt on one character's part to amend her behavior, and certain personal faults and ties are recognized and strengthened, the film seems far more interested in the other mother's slow, crippling descent into a whirlpool of madness that will leave everyone, both the characters involved and the viewer, reeling with a sort of nauseous disbelief at the woman's cruel (but somewhat understandable) machinations. I was confused, actually, by the intentions of the director in the set-up of this plotline; there is a point where I felt a crucial bit of information is given up too early, but it didn't really matter: with the reveal at the end came the dropping of my jaw at the character's temerity.

It was the final nail in my cover-judging coffin; I will now consider this fault to be recognized and trounced. (There are many, many others to go.) With slow-boiling nastiness and some persuasive acting from both mothers and at least one of the daughters (the leads are apparently household names above the 49th Parallel, but who knew this below it? Not me...), Familia slowly won me over despite my preconceptions over the sort of "drama" I was expecting to confront. It does make me wonder, though, if my Dad had similar problems with judging video covers that I never knew about it. Hmmm... Now I just feel so... so... betrayed. It's enough to lead one to drink...

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