Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Family Resemblances

Human beings take stage center in Cedric Klapisch's Un Air De famille (Family Resemblances), a film based on a play by Agnes Jaoui and Jean-Pierre Bacri, who live together, write together, and often act together. They have written four highly successful films, and this is also Klapisch's fourth feature; I have reviewed his When the Cat's Away here. This one is even better, though it seemed more to my European taste than it was to my wife's American one.

Almost all of it takes place inside a cafe, Au Pere Tranquille, which the subtitles render, perhaps too freely, as Sleepy Dad's. What goes on there this Friday evening is neither tranquil nor somnolent: a family reunion for a few drinks to be followed by dinner at a fancy restaurant. There is Henri, the cafe owner, unhappily married to Arlette, who phones to say she has moved in with a girlfriend, to meditate on whether or not to leave him. There is his sister, Betty, thirty and unmarried, an outspoken creature who has just given her boss what for and may lose her job. She enjoys drinking, and is sort of girlfriend to Denis, Henri's factotum, a bookish fellow much reproached for reading on the job.

The third sibling is Philippe, Maman's favorite and Number 4 at a big computer concern. He has just had his two minutes on a TV show and is preoccupied with how he performed, including whether he wore the wrong tie or smiled too much. He is polling everyone, either buttonholing or phoning them. Maman thinks he was sublime, as does, less convincingly, his mousy, dominated wife, Yoyo, whose birthday this is. She celebrates it with a couple of Suzes too many, eliciting more veritas than some family members can stand. Maman, by the way, left Papa long ago, which still occasions random sour remarks from her children.

These six manage to keep the joint jumping, mostly comically but with a persistent edge of misery. Even Caruso, Henri's dog, paralyzed with age and no longer singing (in his fashion), contributes his share, just lying there, "like a rug, only alive." Mother falls down the stairs to the bathroom; Henri steps outside to listen to the trains whooshing and whistling by; Philippe calls Number 5 at his firm and gets a devastating review. Denis becomes painfully jealous of Betty, who defiantly defends to Maman her single status. Henri drives off to retrieve Arlette, but is rebuffed. Yoyo mildly asserts herself. That is about it.

Yet almost every familial and extrafamilial relationship is put to the funny-sad test. Thus Yoyo gets wholly undesired birthday presents: a puppy that, she has good reason to believe, will end up like Caruso; a leash for this unwanted pup; a jewel-studded choker for herself, which she dejectedly mistakes for a dog collar. As shot in mostly subdued light by Bernard Delhomme, and racily directed by Klapisch, 107 minutes go by with a perfect blend of hilarity and agony. The co-writers play Betty and Henri, and are surrounded by no less apt others, including Claire Maurier, who, as Maman, brings back memories of herself as the young mother in The 400 Blows. Indeed, the spirit of Truffaut seems to watch over this movie infused with his antic sensibility.

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