Pavlo Lehenkyi, Tetiana Kosianchuk, Liudmyla Zamidra, Larysa Hraminska, Maksym Derbenyov, Mykola Bozhko
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… there is a deliberate quirkiness… parallels perhaps with some of the work of Wes Anderson and Aki Kaurismaki (the deadpan humour, the affection for the misfits) or even with the ever-cultish Yorgos Lanthimos (the sheer absurdity of the premise, the creepiness of an artificial family a la Dogtooth).
As family is one of the basic units of human association, it is not surprising that it occupies a central space in most cultures. And of course, there have been endless explorations of this institution in art over the centuries. All this ought to give a timeless relevance to director Jayden Stevens’ explorations around the theme. That said, he has gone about it in a very oblique, not to say odd, way. The approach is the point of the film really, and it probably means you will either love it or hate it.
Though the director is Australian, he has chosen to make his film in the Ukraine using Ukrainian actors, none of whom is very polished. Once again, he tries to use this in his favour. After all they are only ‘acting’ themselves in the first place.
The protagonist is Emerson (Pavlo Lehenkyi) a lugubrious looking dude who bears a passing resemblance to Lurch from the Addams Family. He is fond of filming family occasions on his old-fashioned mini video camera, and we start with him filming a Christmas get together. It is no spoiler to say that this quickly turns out to be a con or a spoof, in the sense that he has paid the various ‘relatives’ to pretend to be his family. That is the whole idea of the film really. The rest of the piece then jogs along with this idea, with various iterations of fake family scenarios.
All this could be quite funny (and there are a couple of mordant jokey exchanges) but it would have been a great deal more interesting if the concept had been developed more, or if the film had more of an arc. As it is, it is very grey and monotone in both look and characterisation.
As noted, there is a deliberate quirkiness to all this. There are parallels perhaps with some of the work of Wes Anderson and Aki Kaurismaki (the deadpan humour, the affection for the misfits) or even with the ever-cultish Yorgos Lanthimos (the sheer absurdity of the premise, the creepiness of an artificial family a la Dogtooth).
The idea of the distorting longing for family is potentially poignant and, here, occasionally nicely absurdist. The problem is the joke wears thin and no real empathy is possible for the viewer.