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Festivale online magazine, March, 1998
Un Air de Famille

Un Air de Famille

(French language with English subtitles)

My brother recently remarked that French films have a standard plot: "A beautiful young woman is forced to choose between an ugly man three times her age... and an ugly man twice her age". Un Air de Famille is something different. Not glamorous at all, it's the story of a French family, their relationships and problems.

Un Air de Famille

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The setting is the Café Au Pere Tranquille (translated as Sleepy Dad's Café in the subtitles), a run-down establishment owned by Henri (Jean-Pierre Bacri). Friday night is his family's get-together night, and his brother, sister, mother and sister-in-law descend upon the closed café preparatory to dinner at an expensive restaurant. Sister-in-law Yolande (Catherine Frot) is having a birthday, but instead of a jollity there are recriminations, grudges, arguments and outbursts of spite. A normal family gathering, in other words. It's not all bitterness though; along the way we learn about the characters' personalities and motivations, through quiet happy moments and loud argumentative ones.

The film is based on a play, and you can tell - the action rarely moves outside the confines of the café, once dinner is cancelled upon news that Henri's wife has left him. Not that it's static at all. The drama moves about the premises, from one room to the next as encounters between members of the six people present form and dissipate. The evening is punctuated by events that move it along - a phone call, a dance, the blowing out of candles on a cake - all the while telling us more about the family's members. The one outsider, the waiter Denis (Jean-Pierre Darroussin), lends an external point-of-view to the proceedings. He's able to rise above the pettiness that sometimes obscures siblings' vision, though he also has an interest in the relationships at hand.

There are some wonderfully amusing moments and some very black ones, all underscored by the half-lit, half-deserted backdrop of the café. One thing European films are good at is lighting, and here it is just right, lending a touch of desolation that works perfectly.

It's a film that will no doubt remind you of your own family or someone else's, no matter the setting. Recommended for those who enjoy character-driven movies just a little larger than life.

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Tim Richards
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Festivale Online Magazine
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ISSN 1328-8008
Published in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
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Filed: Mar-1998 : Last updated: : Last tested: 3-Jul-2014: Last Compiled: 3-Jul-2014
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